Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Chive & Goat Cheese Biscuits

Have you planted fresh herbs yet? With Memorial Day weekend just behind us, you still have plenty of time to get going. Every time I snip some mint, rosemary or thyme from the little plants on windowsill, and I feel so satisfied with myself for saving cash on the packaged herbs I'd otherwise be buying from the grocery store.

With the nearly constant warmth and sunshine in Florida, I keep herbs all year round. Some are easier to grow than others, and believe me, I do the bare minimum to keep the poor plants going. Rosemary is the stalwart--nothing could bring that little guy down. My mint, even when I thought I'd taken all it had to give, managed to regenerate anew over several weeks and is now filled out with fresh leaves. I had thyme that grew tangled strands for months, but then was overtaken by miniscule flying pests and quickly capitulated. I've tried basil a couple times, but can't figure out how to stop the icky white bugs that glom onto the lush leaves.

One of the most recent additions to my herb garden are chives. One day, I figured it would be a better value to buy a whole plant for $4 rather than a little pack (of which I'd use a fraction for one or two recipes) for $3. The chives multiplied a few times over and seem so far invulnerable to pests (how these critters get up and into my fifth floor apartment is utterly baffling). Before I bought my plant, I didn't realize all the potential uses I'd find for chives: they add oniony flavor with no aftertaste to omelets, soups, dips and grilled food.

Like many herbs, chives are also a great match for goat cheese. Ever since I made this sweet potato version, Dorie Greenspan's recipe in her book, Baking, has been my go-t0 prototype for biscuits. It's totally uncomplicated, not overburdened with fat, and produces tall, flaky, irresistible results. Other herbs would work here too. Maybe rosemary, thyme, mint or a combination. I want to try a Feta version soon, as well. Although a new twist on this beet soup using carrots and golden beets inspired the biscuits, you could just as easily eat them with a summer salad. If you're contemplating your first herb garden, Ari of Baking and Books recently wrote a fantastic post on how to get started even if you don't have a yard--check it out!

Chive & Goat Cheese Biscuits
Adapted from Baking by Dorie Greenspan
I used 2 ounces of goat cheese, but I think the recipe could support up to 3 ounces if you're especially crazy about it.

Makes 8 to 9 biscuits

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbs. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled
3/4 cup lowfat buttermilk
2 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
1 Tbs. chopped fresh chives

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and a few grinds of black pepper together in a large bowl. Add the butter and toss to coat it with flour. Using your fingertips (my preference) or a pastry blender, pinch and toss the butter and flour until you have a rough, sandy mixture with some pea-size lumps of butter, some ragged flakes and a variety of odd-shaped bits. Do not over work the butter.

Add the buttermilk and toss gently with a fork until most of the flour is moistened. Add the goat cheese and chives and continue tossing to distribute the cheese and chives. Knead dough inside the bowl 3 or 4 times so that you have a fairly uniform consistency and no dry bits of flour remain. Use a light hand and work the dough as little as possible. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and sprinkle lightly with more flour. Flatten dough with your hand and roll it out into a 1/2-inch thick disk. Flour a 2 to 2-1/4 inch biscuit cutter and stamp out as many biscuits as you can, pushing firmly into the dough and flouring the biscuit cutter each time. Transfer biscuits to prepared baking sheet. Quickly re-roll the dough scraps and make more biscuits until you've used it all up.

Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown on the bottom. Serve right away with butter.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sweet Potato Biscuits

I'm still shocked by this, but I think I might like these sweet potato biscuits even more than my favorite cornmeal biscuits that I've made about a dozen times by now. As you'll see, they don't require many ingredients and very little work as far as stamped biscuits go. The sweet potato flavor is mellowed by baking, yet strong and satisfying.

When I make simple, healthy soups, I love--love!--to serve them with a buttery bread. Having a reason to whip up homemade quick bread becomes a major motivation for the soup-making. I had already decided on the celery root soup with Swiss chard from the last post, and started thinking about delicious fresh-baked accompaniments. And from a magazine story I was working on involving Thanksgiving recipes, I happened to have an abundance of whipped sweet potatoes (to serve 10, of course) hanging out in the fridge...

I've been aware of sweet potato biscuits for years, but the opportunity to make them never arose until now. I suspected they might be valued more for the novelty than the taste. I was totally wrong. They are really tasty, and somehow less fussy than my other favorite biscuits. I adapted a recipe from the eminently reliable Dorie Greenspan, so that may have had something to do with it. I used some whole wheat flour and reduced the sugar a bit, to add some substance and cut the sweetness. They are now a permanent part of my biscuit rotation.

Have you ever baked or eaten sweet potato biscuits? If not, try these and report back!

Sweet Potato Biscuits

Adapted from Baking by Dorie Greenspan
Dorie's recipe calls for 2 (15-oz) cans of sweet potatoes in light syrup, drained and mashed. I cook sweet potatoes often and tend to hand leftovers, so that is what I used here. Mine were seasoned rather elaborately with ginger, cloves, cinnamon, cayenne vanilla, salt and pepper plus a bit of coconut milk and chopped pecans...whew. But just salt and pepper would be fine.

Makes 9 to 12

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon coarse salt
Pinch of ground cinnamon
1 Tbs. (packed) brown sugar
6 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled
1 cup seasoned, mashed sweet potatoes
1 egg, for egg wash (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk the flours, salt, cinnamon and brown sugar together in a large bowl. Add the butter and toss to coat it with flour. Using your fingertips or a pastry blender, pinch and toss the butter and flour until you have a rough, sandy mixture with some pea-size lumps of butter, some ragged flakes and a variety of odd-shaped bits. Do not over work the butter.

Add the sweet potatoes and toss gently with a fork until all the flour is moistened and you have a soft dough. Knead dough inside the bowl 3 or 4 times so that you have a fairly uniform consistency. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and sprinkle lightly with more flour. Flatten dough with your hand and roll it out into a 1/2-inch thick disk. Flour a 2 to 2-1/4 inch biscuit cutter and stamp out as many biscuits as you can, pushing firmly into the dough and flouring the biscuit cutter each time. Transfer biscuits to prepared baking sheet. Quickly re-roll the dough scraps and make more biscuits until you've used it all up.

If using egg wash, crack egg into a small bowl, add 1 Tbs. water and beat. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat tops of biscuits with egg wash. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown on the bottom. Transfer to a rack to cool. If you can wait, cool 15 to 20 minutes before serving. Dorie says the sweet potato flavor grows more pronounced, and I agree! Serve with butter.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ham Biscuits! (and Denver)

Mmmm, biscuits. Now add ham--and cheese if you want--and you have something even better: a ham biscuit. The idea comes from Southern cuisine, but I used my favorite cornmeal biscuits (click on that link, people; they're so good, ham or no). This would be a nice way to use up leftover Easter ham.

Right now, I'm in Denver for the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference. It starts tomorrow, and is filled with 4 days of culinary seminars and networking with folks in all areas of the food industry. I'm so excited! Of all the sessions I signed up for, I think I'm most looking forward to "Bison is Big" and "Bourbon: America's Native Spirit." I have to admit that I'll feel very snazzy once I become a Bourbon expert!

Denver is a lot of fun. I've been here a couple times before on business trips. I made reservations for one of my favorite restaurants, Rioja, over a month ago, and I can almost taste the gnocchi and pork belly. Tonight I had a yummy, light sushi dinner at Sonoda's in LoDo. And my last Denver tip for the day: The free shuttle bus on the 16th Street Mall downtown is genius.

I'll keep you posted about what I'm learning (and eating!) here at the conference. Or you can follow me on twitter @JulieTastes. But in the meantime, you can gaze at that lovely ham biscuit.

Have any of you spent time in Denver? Do you live in Denver? If so, what do you think about the downtown area? I haven't really been very far outside of that downtown mall area and the LoDo district. And if you can recommend a fun brew pub with good food in downtown, I would be thrilled!

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cornbread-Chorizo Stuffing

I've talked about my love of cornbread many, many times, but this is my first ever cornbread stuffing. Why? Because all the recipes I came across seemed too rich, too bread-y, just too much. Then Mike put the idea for cornbread stuffing in my head last week, and a couple days later I saw this recipe in Gourmet.

This stuffing is straightforward, incredibly tasty and a lot less heavy (read loaded with butter) than most stuffing recipes of any kind. You absolutely need to make the homemade cornbread, which is a snap. It's also one of the nicest southern-style cornbreads I've tried.

My go-to skillet cornbread uses a combo of stone ground cornmeal and flour for a tender, not too crumbly texture. I had tried all-cornmeal versions, but they were just too quick to fall apart. In this recipe, an extra egg and plenty of buttermilk solves that problem, resulting in an all-cornmeal bread that you could eat on its own with butter.

So, my first cornbread stuffing was hugely successful, although I think it could be the centerpiece of a meal by itself--who needs turkey? Be sure to read the recipe headnote regarding chorizo. I would have just included links to the original recipes, but I liked these so much, I wanted to record them here for easy retrieval! One last tip: the leftovers were great with a fried runny egg.

Cornbread-Chorizo Stuffing
Adapted from Gourmet magazine, Nov. 08 (original)

The success of the stuffing utterly depends upon the homemade cornbread. Luckily, it’s easy and may be made a day or two ahead. Spanish chorizo is cured and ready to eat, as opposed to Mexican chorizo, which is fresh and must be cooked. Failing to find Spanish chorizo at our supermarket, we used Niman Ranch fully cooked chorizo from the refrigerator case. It’s not authentic to either country, but because it is such a lean, high quality product, it worked wonderfully—probably better than the real thing! If using a product like this, there’s no need to remove the casing.

Serves 6

Skillet cornbread (recipe follows)
1 Tbs. canola oil
5 oz. Spanish chorizo, casing removed and sausage chopped
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped (about 3 cups)
3 celery ribs, coarsely chopped (2 to 2 1/2 cups)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbs. chopped garlic
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and coat a 2 to 3-quart shallow baking dish with cooking spray. Cut the cornbread into approximately 1/2-inch pieces and spread them out in a single layer on 2 sheet pans with sides. Bake for about 20 minutes, or bread is dried out, switching positions of the pans and tossing the bread about halfway through. Cool and transfer to a large bowl.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add chorizo and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add onions and celery, season with salt and pepper, and continue cooking until vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and oregano and cook 2 minutes more. Add to cornbread.

Whisk together broth and egg, then pour over cornbread mixture and toss well. Transfer to baking dish. Coat a piece of foil with nonstick spray and cover baking dish tightly. Bake in upper third of oven for 1 hour. Remove foil and bake until top is golden, about 15 minutes more. Stuffing mixture may be prepared up to 1 day ahead; add broth and egg just before baking.

Skillet Cornbread
Adapted from Gourmet magazine (original)

If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, you can still make your own cornbread, but it won’t have the same crispy, browned edges. Just melt the butter in the microwave and bake the bread in a buttered pie plate.

1 1/2 cups stone ground yellow cornmeal, preferably medium-grind
1 tbs. sugar
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups cups well-shaken buttermilk (do not use powdered)
3 Tbs. unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and heat a 9- or 10-inch cast iron skillet in the oven for 10 minutes.

Whisk together the cornmeal, sugar, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl whisk the eggs and buttermilk.

Take the hot skillet out of the oven (careful, handle is HOT) and add the butter. Return to the oven until butter melts. It may brown a little, but watch closely so it doesn’t burn. Remove the skillet from the oven, swirl the skillet to coat the sides with butter, and pour the excess butter into the egg mixture. Whisk well.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and gently stir them just until combined. Pour into the hot skillet and return to the oven. Bake 20 to 24 minutes, or until light golden brown spots appear on top and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a rack, then remove cornbread from skillet.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008


If you've never had straight out of the oven popovers, you don't know what you're missing. With just eggs, milk, flour, salt and butter, you get big puffs with a crisp exterior and an airy center. Actually, if they work out for you, there isn't much substance in the center--just thinly stretched pieces of the eggy, cream puff-like dough. If you've had gougeres, that's probably the best comparison, but these are airier, thanks to that popping effect.

I used to make them according to a recipe in King Arthur Flour's Baking Companion, which calls for mixing in a blender. This is easy for sure, but the King Arthur bakers recently re-jiggered their recipe and discovered that whisking the batter by hand makes the puffiest popovers. I came across the King Arthur blog describing the results a few days after Mike and I screwed up a batch of popovers by inaccurately halving it and ended up with leaden shells rather than light, crisp puffs.

It was total serendipity that I came across the King Arthur blog on the topic, and we tried them again the next weekend, this time with the correct measurements and the whisking method. Perfect popovers! The picture above looks just like the ones on their blog, where you can see the difference in puffiness with 3 different methods.

But aside from all the little details of my popover adventures, I just want to make one thing clear--you have to try these sometime! Sure you could make homemade dinner rolls with yeast and hours of rising time and kneading and shaping. Or you could just whisk together 5 ingredients and get a really delicious accompaniment to your meal. I love these as a starch with steak and salad or fish and roasted veggies. And plan for 2 or 3 popovers per person--they are very easy to eat (with butter, naturally).

The only thing to consider is coordinating the rest of the meal so you don't have to open the oven more than once (quickly) while they cook. It helps the popovers reach their fullest potential. Otherwise, there aren't many simpler ways to make a dinner feel special. After all the great fall cooking ideas you guys suggested in the comments for my last giveaway, I figured I should contribute something too!

I'm linking to the popover recipe on King Arthur's website. I followed it as written, but was just a little heavy-handed with the salt--as I tend to be when baking. They specify King Arthur flour in the recipe, but I used another brand and it worked great (but I do generally recommend all the KA flours).

I'm going to do another cookbook giveaway this week, so stay tuned! Remember, you can always sign up to receive new post delivered to your email box, so you won't miss anything. Just type your email address in the box below my picture in the left sidebar.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Favorite Things: Cornmeal Biscuits

This is one of my favorite recipes. I've been making it for less than a year or so, but every time I want a bread-y thing to go with soup or stew, this is what I crave the most. It gets annoying because I'd like to try other biscuits and breads, but I just like these so much! Consistency also comes into play-- they turn out perfectly every time I make them.

I have mentioned these cornmeal biscuits as an aside in other posts and sent you to the original recipe from Cooking Light magazine. I'm tired of looking for that link and mentally dividing the recipe in half whenever I make them, so I decided they deserved their own post at last. You may notice that the CL recipe should yield 24 biscuits. When I halve the recipe, I've never get more than 9, despite rolling the dough as indicated and using the same size biscuit cutter. By the way, the iris in my photo is apropos of nothing; but I happened to have some lovely flowers and wanted to jazz up the shot.

The original recipe calls for half all-purpose and half whole wheat flour. I use only my trusty whole wheat pastry flour instead. It provides a tender, small crumb and is easier than using two different flours. I think white whole wheat flour would work too, if that's what you have at home. Of course, simple all-purpose flour is acceptable, but then you would miss out on all the nutrients and fiber that make these biscuits healthy while satisfying even the most intense carb craving.

There aren't too many other ingredients to discuss here. The recipe is incredibly simple, but the results are outstanding. For the cornmeal, use 100% whole grain stone ground varieties, NOT a generic, "enriched" supermarket cornmeal product. It doesn't have to be an expensive, boutique brand; just an unprocessed, whole food. Well-stocked supermarkets will carry it, but you may need to visit a health food store. Three great brands are Bob's Red Mill (I'm currently using their medium grind), Hodgson Mill and Arrowhead Mills.

Sorry about being so bossy there, but without good ingredients, a simple recipe like this just won't fly. I almost forgot about butter. If you can eat these without a generous pat of good butter, you're a better person than I.

Cornmeal Biscuits
Adapted from this recipe in Cooking Light magazine
For the whole wheat pastry flour, you may substitute: white whole wheat, all-purpose, or half all-purpose and half whole wheat.

Makes 9

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (9 1/2 ounces)
1/2 cup stone ground cornmeal (2 1/2 ounces), medium or fine grind
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Scant 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and chilled
1 cup lowfat buttermilk
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon poppy seeds
1 teaspoon sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 450 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a small bowl, mix the poppy and sesame seeds and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking soda, baking powder and salt; whisk thoroughly. Add the chilled butter and work it into the flour mixture with your fingers for a minute or two until a few small chunks and plenty of shaggy bits remain.

Add the buttermilk to the bowl and stir just until the flour mixture is moistened; do not over mix. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface, knead once or twice with floured hands and shape into a ball. Flatten the ball of dough slightly, sprinkle with flour and use a rolling pin to roll dough into a 3/4- to 1-inch thick disk. With a 2 1/2-inch cutter, stamp out biscuits, dipping cutter into flour each time. Transfer biscuits to baking sheet. Quickly roll remaining dough into a new disk and stamp out more biscuits, flouring the cutter each time. Repeat until you've used up all the dough.

Lightly brush biscuits with egg white and sprinkle with seed mixture. Bake 9 to 11 minutes or until bottoms are deep golden brown. Cool on baking sheet 5 minutes, transfer to rack and cool at least 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. These freeze exceptionally well; defrost at room temperature.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Irish Soda Biscuits and Southeast Asia

Irish Soda Biscuits have absolutely nothing to do with Southeast Asia. But, I do want to tell you about a piece I wrote for NPR.org's Kitchen Window column titled, Food and Longing in Southeast Asia. The story is about how food is essential to an authentic travel experience. AND, there are recipes for Vietnamese Seafood Stew in a Clay Pot, Thai Spicy Shrimp Salad and Greens with Chile and Garlic.

I also did an interview for NPR's food podcast (you can either download it to your MP3 or listen directly from the NPR website). There's a link right at the top of the story. I hope you'll read and listen and let me know what you think!

Well, now. March 17th is right around the corner. The Irish may not have the endless culinary traditions of France, Thailand or Spain, but they've go soda bread. I love the simple whole wheat Irish soda bread based on a recipe from a church cookbook we had when I was a kid. I've mentioned it multiple times, and here's the link again.

This year, I thought about trying a new soda bread recipe. Maybe a jazzier one with raisins, caraway seeds, sugar, multiple eggs...maybe I'd even put it in a loaf pan. But that's not really Irish, ya know? Their food didn't exactly result from living in a land of plenty. The traditional food of Ireland is simple, hearty peasant food, and I'm happy to eat it.

So I decided to adapt my favorite, dead simple recipe to biscuits. I actually didn't change anything but the shape and the baking time, but that's all the change I was up for. These are a perfect companion for soup. And don't forget the sweet Irish butter.

Irish Soda Biscuits

Makes 8 large biscuits

2 c. whole wheat flour (or any combo of whole wheat, whole wheat pastry and Irish style)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
1 c. buttermilk
2 tablespoons honey
Turbinado or other coarse sugar (granulated works too), for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk and honey. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the flour mixture. Stir until all the flour is moistened.

Scoop dough onto the prepared baking sheet to make 8 (roughly 2 1/2-inch wide) biscuits. Sprinkle sugar over tops of biscuits. Bake for 16 to 18 minutes (mine took 17), until bottoms are light brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes then transfer to a rack and cool completely. Serve at room temperature.

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Friday, February 29, 2008

Hot Cross Buns

Even though I was Catholic growing up, I probably never would have eaten a hot cross bun if it weren't for that cute little song (see the lyrics here), which I probably learned in pre-school or someplace like that. With such a catchy tune running through my head, I naturally wanted to eat a hot cross bun. Luckily, a bakery near our house made them during lent, and I remember liking the sweet little yeast rolls studded with bits of fruit and spices.

What we know as a hot cross bun became popular in Tudor England in the 1500s, but the pagan inhabitants of the British Isles probably made similar bread marked with a cross to honor Eostre, their goddess of light for whom Easter was named, according to the Oxford Companion to Food. This tradition of offering bread to the gods goes back to the Greeks and Romans and even further to the Egyptians who took a great leap toward modern civilization when they traded blood sacrifices for far less messy offerings of bread.

Today, hot cross buns aren't really an offering, but a traditional holiday food eaten on Good Friday (also known as "the day of the cross") and throughout Lent to remind us of Jesus' cross.

When I decided to recreate this sweet little catholic-school-girl memory, I was surprised that there weren't many recipes to choose from when I looked to my cookbooks and searched online. There's a needlessly complex one here on epicurious, and you can probably turn up a few more from less reliable sources via google.

I found what looked like a good straightforward recipe on foodtv.com from Emeril of all people. Unfortunately, his recipe did not come off without a hitch. The dough was so slack and sticky that it wasn't "kneadable" until I added an extra 1/2 cup of flour. The dough took 2 hours instead of 1 to double in bulk, but I was happy that it rose at all.

Maybe I should have had more faith (bad joke, I know) because my buns turned out very well in the end. The flavor was just right with cardamom at the forefront. I couldn't resist adding a little ginger and allspice, two spices that are often included in hot cross buns. With those aromatic spices, the buns were perfect with the rose petal jam I was raving about in this post.

Here's the link to Emeril's recipe. My changes are as follows: 4 cups of flour instead of 3 1/2, but add more only if you need it; 1/3 cup of currants instead of 1/2 cup raisins (currants are more traditional); I used a generous 1/2 tsp of freshly ground cardamom and 1/4 tsp each of ginger and allspice; 2 hours for each rise. I got 19 buns and they took no more than 25 minutes to bake. If I made these again, I would reduce the milk to 1 cup. For the icing, I used just 1 tbs. of milk, otherwise it is too runny.

This is the type of thing I want to bake for breakfast, so after the second rise, I cover the buns well with a kitchen towel and put them in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning I let them come to room temperature for 1 to 2 hours, then bake. They're really good warm.

Here's another hot cross bun recipe from Levain Bakery, they of ginormous chocolate chip cookie fame. It seemed less traditional, so I opted for Emeril. Then, after all was said and done, I was flipping through Feast by Nigella Lawson looking for something totally unrelated and found her recipe for hot cross buns. Why the heck didn't I think of consulting her in the first place? If you have access to the book, give it a look.

If you have a favorite traditional Easter food, tell me about it in the comments!

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Honey Spelt Bread

Happy 2008! Today is an absolutely chilly day in Fort Lauderdale. The temperature is the coolest it’s been since last winter--we’re talking mid-50’s right now, and I love it. I know that’s pretty wimpy compared to winter in the rest of the country, but it’s such a relief to finally feel a change in the air, although I know it will only last for about two days. Then it’s back to beach weather.

I’ve had so much fun reading all the “best of 2007” lists on so many of my favorite blogs. I never get tired of drooling over everyone else’s beautiful food and reading about your adventures. I also want to take a sec and thank everyone, bloggers and non-bloggers alike, who reads and comments on my blog. I would love to hear from you about what you like and what you want to see more of. I love getting your emails and will do my best to answer every one.

So how to begin a new year? Mike and I started 2008 with Hoppin’ John and cornbread on New Year’s Day. It’s not too late to conjure up a little luck of your own with this traditional New Year’s dish. However, if you’re still in baking mode due to winter weather, but need a break from holiday decadence, I have a great yeast bread for you.

This recipe for Honey Spelt Bread was in the December issue of Food & Wine. I had eaten store-bought spelt bread and liked it, and I have been occasionally flirting with alternative flours for baking. Spelt is similar to wheat, but contains more nutrients and amino acids. It does contain gluten, but is more easily digested by people with wheat sensitivity. It also has a nuttier flavor than regular wheat bread.

This bread has a dense, sturdy homemade quality, and it’s very, very good. I like it better spread with butter than as a sandwich bread. Jam, cheese, avocado or nut butter would also be great. But, what really recommends this bread, in my opinion, is the incredibly easy method. You don’t even have to bother with proofing the yeast. I didn’t think this would actually work, but I wanted to give F&W the benefit of the doubt, so I tried the recipe as written. It took me less than 10 minutes and barely any effort to put the dough together. My loaf rose beautifully, baked evenly and looked exactly like the picture in the magazine--love it when that happens!

Honey Spelt Bread
Adapted from Food & Wine, December 2007
Note that spelt flour makes a very soft dough that must be baked in a loaf pan. If you don’t have a stand mixer, I think it would work if you mix with a wooden spoon and do the kneading by hand. This loaf freezes beautifully. I love it with Kerry Gold Irish butter as an accompaniment for soups like this.

Makes 1-9x5 loaf

4 1/2 cups (540 grams) whole wheat spelt flour
2 tsp. fine sea salt
2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 3/4 cup cool (70 F) water
2 tbs. honey

In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour, salt and yeast. Turn mixer on to medium-low speed and add the water and honey. Mix until flour is moistened, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Increase the speed to medium and knead until a stiff dough forms, about two minutes more.

Lightly coat the inside of a large bowl with butter and flour, shaking out any excess flour when finished. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and shape into a ball. Place dough in the floured bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a dish towel and let it rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 450 and coat a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and gently punch it down. Fold the dough into a loaf shape and transfer to the baking pan, seam side down. Cover with plastic wrap and a dish towel and let it rise a second time until puffed, about 1 hour.

Lightly dust the loaf with flour and use a sharp, thin knife to make a shallow slit down the length of the loaf. Bake for 35 minutes until loaf is golden on top and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. An instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the loaf should read 180 degrees. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a rack. Cool completely before serving.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Cornbread Yeast Rolls

I absolutely love it when I try something new, not quite sure if it will work out, and end up with fantastic results. These cornbread yeast rolls are the perfect example. I say over and over how much I love cornbread. One of our favorite things to eat it with is super-slow roasted pork, shredded and topped with our favorite Memphis-style barbecue sauce.

The thing about my traditional skillet cornbread is that it's kinda crumbly. Doesn't really hold up as a sandwich bread, especially if you're filling it with luscious, spoon-tender pork smothered in sauce. After dealing with messy cornbread sandwiches one too many times, Mike had enough (I never really tried making a sandwich with cornbread in the first place, so I didn't much care). He asked if there was a recipe that existed somewhere in the wide world of food for cornbread that was better suited for sandwiches, but still deliciously corny.

I enthusiastically affirmed that such a thing does exist, since I've seen yeast cornbread recipes before, most recently here on a blog I read all the time. So, I set out to find a recipe that I could easily adapt to make big, sturdy sandwich rolls. I didn't have far to google before I found this recipe on FoodReference.com. I had no idea if it was reliable, but most of it made sense to me, and it contained all the ingredients I thought were needed to produce a tasty cornbread.

This bread is so delicious! The even crumb is fine and tender, yet sturdy enough that it doesn't turn to mush when it comes in contact with barbecue sauce and creamy coleslaw. Thanks to honey and plenty of corn in the dough, it's slightly sweet and full of corn flavor. Make no mistake, though--this does not have the cake-like texture of a quick bread--it's a sandwich roll through and through.

You can, in fact, bake it as two full-size loaves and slice it for sandwiches, but rolls give you more of that glossy, burnished crust to enjoy. The pork, by the way, is so easy to make, it barely requires a recipe.

Super-Slow Roasted Pork:
Season a 3-4 pound Boston butt pork roast (spice blends are handy for this), wrap it tightly in foil and place in a roasting pan. Roast at 275 degrees for 4 hours (or an hour per pound). You don't have to look at or even open the oven during cooking. Let it rest for at least 30 minutes, then effortlessly shred it up. You can't overcook it, and it's the finest pork roast you'll ever eat. We heard about this cooking method on the radio show (podcast actually), The Splendid Table, a few weeks ago and adapted this recipe on their website.

Cornbread Yeast Rolls
Adapted from this recipe on FoodReference.com
If you love cornbread, but want something different, try these rolls. The recipe is very friendly, so no special knowledge or tricks are required. I used my stand mixer, but I think you could make them by hand with a little elbow grease. When measuring your flour, lightly spoon it into measuring cups and level with a knife.

Makes 12 sandwich-sized rolls

1 cup warm water
1 tbs. sugar
1 (7 gram) packet active dry yeast
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour, divided
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 2/3 c. cornmeal
4 tbs. unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup honey
2 large eggs
1 (7 oz.) can corn, drained well
2 tbs. coarse cornmeal (optional)
1 egg, beaten, for egg wash

Combine the water and sugar in a bowl. Add the yeast and gently stir. Set aside for 5 to 10 minutes, or until yeast forms a foamy layer on top of water.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine 1 cup of the whole wheat pastry flour and 1 cup of the all-purpose flour. Add the yeast mixture and mix with the dough hook attachment on low speed until combined. Add the salt, cornmeal, melted butter, honey, eggs and corn. Continue mixing on medium-low speed until combined.

With the mixer running, add the remaining 1 cup of whole wheat flour and 1 cup of the all-purpose flour. Continue mixing until you have a slightly sticky dough that pulls away from the sides of bowl. If dough is too wet, add the remaining 1/3 cup of flour slowly until the dough holds together and pulls away from the bowl. I used nearly all of the flour. Let the mixer knead the dough for about 1 minute, then transfer dough to a large bowl, coated with olive oil. Turn the dough over once inside the bowl to coat it all over with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then with a dish towel and leave it to rise in a warm place until roughly doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and sprinkle with coarse cornmeal, if using. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead for a few seconds, then divide into two pieces. You can stop here if you want to make two rustic loaves, or you can divide each piece into 6 balls to make rolls. Knead each ball once or twice and place on the prepared baking sheets with seam side down. Cover the rolls with a kitchen towel and leave them to rise a second time for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until they puff up noticeably. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Right before you put them in the oven, gently brush the rolls with the beaten egg to add a nice gloss to the finished rolls. Bake for 20 to 25, switching the positions of the baking sheets halfway through. Remove from oven when rolls are golden on top, browned on the bottom and sound hollow when tapped on the base. Cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes, then finish cooling on wire racks.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Black-Eyed Pea Stew and Creamy Corn Muffins

In my last post, I wrote, if a meal consists of a comforting stew and some homemade biscuits or corn bread, life is good. Well, I wasn't just trying to convince you to make my Seafood-Corn Chowder and Whole Grain Herb Biscuits (which you should!)--I really meant it. This is another meal that proves my theory.

As I was looking at my list of TBB recipes ("to be blogged"), I saw this stew and these easy corn muffins. Both recipes are from October's Cooking Light, and I tried them out a few weeks ago, but am just getting around to posting now. I've been doing a lot of cooking lately, so sometimes things get stuck in the blogging pipeline!

If you've always wanted to cook dried beans instead of popping open a can, here's your chance. It's hardly more work than straining and rinsing canned beans, as long as you allow enough time for your beans to transform from hard and dry to toothsome and creamy. If you haven't cooked dried beans before, you'll have to trust me when I tell you it's totally worth it. I don't hesitate to use canned beans in a lot of situations, but I think they taste better when I cook them myself. Actually, it's probably more of a texture than a flavor thing. Just think of canned corn versus corn freshly trimmed off the cob--both have sweet flavor, but the texture of fresh corn retains that smooth snap even when cooked in a soup or casserole.

I can't believe I just used canned corn as an example above because these tangy corn muffins actually depend on a can of creamed corn for their excellent, moist texture. It goes to show that certain foods are more suitable for some recipes than for others. I wouldn't heat up a can of creamed corn as a side dish, but it's a perfect shortcut to a healthy corn muffin. As much as I love the classic Skillet Corn Bread I usually make to go with a stew like this, the scallions, sour cream, sharp cheddar (and even the creamed corn) in this recipe appealed to me--it's important to try variations on your favorite recipes to keep things fresh, don't you think?

Below is my adaptation of the Black-Eyed Pea Stew recipe. As for the corn muffins, I didn't change a thing (except using whole wheat pastry flour instead of AP), so here is the link to the recipe on Cooking Light's website. I like to make regular size muffins, but the recipe also gives directions for making them in mini muffin tins.

By the way, this Thursday is the release of the Beaujolais Nouveau wines for 2007. I love, these light, fruity, slightly fizzy young red wines from Beaujolais region of France. Though not everyone agrees, I think the best of these wines, made from the Gamay grape, are tasty, fun and easy to drink. Check back here on Thursday for the perfect meal to go with your stash of Nouveau!!

Black-Eyed Pea Stew with Kale

Adapted from Cooking Light
Don't bother slicing the turkey sausage; just squeeze it out of the casing directly into the pot.

Serves 4 to 6

2 cups dried black-eyed peas
1/2 tbs. olive oil
1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
3 spicy turkey sausages (like Jennie-O Turkey Store brand), casings removed and meat crumbled
4 cups vegetable broth (I like Swanson's)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 dried bay leaves
1 tbs. cider vinegar
28 oz. can diced tomatoes
10-12 oz. bag chopped kale, mustard or collard greens

Rinse beans and pick over. Add to a large pot and fill with water to cover by several inches. Bring to a rapid boil and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and soak for 1 hour. Drain and rinse beans.

Heat oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add sausage; cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add vegetable broth, raise heat to high and bring to a boil. Add peas, salt and pepper and bay leaves. Cover and reduce heat; simmer for 45 minutes. Uncover and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in vinegar, tomatoes and greens. Simmer 10 minutes or until beans are tender. Taste for seasoning and serve.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Catalan Flatbread with Piquillo Peppers, Caramelized Onions & Anchovies

Spanish food...the love affair continues. I, like many cookbook junkies I'm sure, snapped up Jose Andres' book, Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America, soon after it came out. I was familiar with Andres from eating in one of his Washington, D.C. restaurants, and I love tapas. I have to shamefully admit that I haven't used the book much at all. It has a lot of motivating photography, and the recipes are not difficult for the most part. The best explanation I can come up with is that, realistically, an array of whimsical tapas dishes is not the simplest thing for the home cook to pull off.

If you enjoy tapas as much as I do, there are times when you find a way. Many of the recipes in this book could be entrees or sides as easily as they could be lunch or a mid-afternoon snack on the weekend. Tapas is not just about lots of small dishes, but a cooking philosophy of bringing together bold, high-quality ingredients in simple but interesting ways.

These flatbreads involve a homemade yeast dough, but wait--the recipe is formulated with a lot of yeast so it requires just one 30-minute rise. Flatbread recipes, like my beloved pizza dough, are simple as can be, but they do require waiting time. Not this one. It is ready so fast, you'll want to use it for other recipes.

Piquillo peppers are Spanish wood-roasted sweet peppers that pack a nice bit of heat. The come in jars like roasted red peppers (but they're not at all similar in taste), and you can find them in lots of grocery stores and gourmet shops.

For me and Mike, this would be great football watching food, but try it anytime you want something savory, salty and out of the ordinary.

Catalan Flatbread with Anchovies & Piquillo Peppers
Adapted from Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America by Jose Andres.

Makes 8

For dough:
2 packets (1/2 oz.) active dry yeast
1/2 c. whole or lowfat milk, gently warmed in the microwave (not scalding)
1 c. plus 3 tbs. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt

For Flatbreads:
2 tbs. olive oil
1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
20 kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1 c. piquillo peppers (a little less than a 13 oz. jar), cut into small pieces
16 oil-packed anchovy fillets, halved crosswise
6 oz. Manchego cheese, grated (about 1 c.)

Stir the yeast into the warmed milk and let it rest for 5 minutes. Add the flour and salt to a food processor and pulse to combine. Pour the yeast mixture into the food processor and process for 1 minute, or until the dough is well-mixed. Remove the lid and cover the bowl of the food process with plastic wrap. Leave it in a non-drafty place to rise for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Add the olive oil to a large skillet, preferably cast iron or nonstick, and heat to medium-low. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasional for 15 to 20 minutes, or until caramelized--very soft and brown. Season with salt and pepper once they start to soften. If the skillet gets too dry before onions are done, add 1/2 tablespoon of water to prevent them from burning. Remove from heat and set aside.

Coast two baking sheets with nonstick spray or line with parchment paper. When the dough is finished rising, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes. Divide the dough into 8 equal balls. Flatten them into an oval with your hand, then use a floured rolling pin to roll them out into long thin strips, about 10 x 2 inches. Place them on the baking sheets as you go.

Prick each flatbread two or three times with a fork. Divide the onions and olives among the flatbreads. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until cooked in the center and lightly browned around the edges. Top with the piquillo peppers, anchovies and Manchego. Sprinkle some freshly ground black pepper on top and return to the oven for 2 minutes. Serve hot.

And a few more intriguing flatbread recipes from food blogs I heart:

1) Parmesan Skillet Flatbread from Je Mange La Ville.
2) Arabic Flatbread Pizza--a cheesy cultural hybrid from Morsels & Musings.
3) Ana Sortun's Flatbread with Spiced Chicken and Pistachios--No wonder I love The Wednesday Chef--she constantly writes about the kind of food I love, and she's into Ana Sortun!
4) Rosemary Pears on Flatbread with Mozzarella from Acme Instant Food lucks divine.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Saveur’s Naan Bread (and Eggplant Curry)

Naan is the impossibly light, perfectly blistered, wonderfully chewy Indian flatbread cooked in a tandoor oven. The temperature, which can approach 900 F, in the tandoor is so hot that the naan wallah (or bread maker) needs only throw the soft, smooth dough against the wall of the clay oven and slide it out just moments later, before the bread is blackened beyond recognition.

Naan is one of my favorite things to eat at an Indian restaurant. I often want to branch out and sample other breads or side dishes, but the naan just won’t be denied. I thought I had accepted the fact that due to my oven’s inferior heating capability relative to the awesome power of a real Indian tandoor, I would never be able to make my favorite flatbread at home. But when I saw the recipe and accompanying photo in the May issue of Saveur, I couldn’t resist trying, even though I was afraid I was only setting myself up for disappointment.

Mike was game and we had a pizza stone and a cast iron skillet, the two pieces of equipment required by the recipe. I mixed up the dough according to the simple directions, using my Kitchen Aid stand mixer fitted with the dough hook to take care of the ten minutes of kneading. Against our better judgment, we attempted to stretch the individual naan by draping the dough over an inverted bowl. It stuck badly and stretched very little, so we rolled it out instead.

Our first flatbread looked great, but came out like a cracker. We shortened the cooking time, flipping the bread halfway through and eventually got the hang of it. You may get it on the first try, but if not, keep tweaking the process until you get naan that is browned in places but still very soft and chewy…it’s all about trial and error.

I wish I could say our naan was as good as India House, our favorite Fort Lauderdale curry stop, but I knew that would be too much to hope for. On the bright side, it was pretty good flatbread and fun to make. My biggest complaint was that the naan tasted too much like the Gold Medal all-purpose flour I used. The naan actually had a flavor similar to my homemade buttermilk biscuits—a great taste for biscuits, but not so much for naan. Doing a little more research, I came across one recipe that warned against turning the dough over when rolling it out to avoid getting loose flour on the top of the bread. I think this might help.

We made a spiced basmati pilaf and Saveur’s Bhaigan Bhartha, an easy eggplant curry dish to eat with our naan. The flavor of the baigan bharta was deep and complex, but I didn’t see the need for all the fat called for in the recipe. I used about a tablespoon each of butter and oil instead, and I cut my eggplant lengthwise and cooked it flesh side down under the broiler.

Our naan experience was definitely worthwhile, but since we won’t be installing a tandoor in our kitchen anytime soon, we’ll be off to India House when the next naan craving strikes…that is until I’m enticed by the siren call of another promising homemade naan recipe.

If anyone out there has found a great home method, don’t hesitate to share…

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Buttery Buttermilk Biscuits

This post is all about why you’ll never go to Kentucky Fried Chicken again. If you are reading this blog, there is a good chance you’re not a big KFC fan, but that’s not important. I know my readers love delicious homemade food, from the healthy to the indulgent, so read on because I want you to have both!

You might contend that fried chicken and biscuits falls into the indulgent category, but it doesn’t have to be the antithesis of healthy eating. We made this classic southern meal for the very first time, and it was so good without being particularly difficult, that we plan on doing it again very soon.

I suggested to Mike that we try our hand at this meal because I really wanted an excuse to make homemade buttermilk biscuits. Being a quick bread, they are not very different from one of my favorite obsessions, the scone. The recipe in a recent issue of Food & Wine was incredibly simple, with only four ingredients. I made one small change and mixed the dough with my fingers instead of a pastry blender or other tool.

I recently read in Cook’s Illustrated that this method would help create a biscuit with more flaky layers because the butter would get pinched and flattened by your fingers instead of getting turned into coarse crumbs by a pastry blender or food processor. Since hand mixing is the easiest way to go, and my biscuits had plenty of flaky layers, I definitely recommend it. Keeping the dough cold (so the butter stays solid prior to baking) and using a sharp biscuit cutter that will not smash together the layers you have created, are also important steps.

In a very distant childhood food memory, I recall the KFC buttermilk biscuit being the best part of the meal, but my homemade version beats the memory hands down. They are even better than the Pillsbury biscuits that come in the paper can that pops open. I’ve written up the biscuit recipe today, and I will give you the fried chicken in my Wednesday post, along with some tips to make this meal just healthy enough to have it whenever you get nostalgic for dinner in a bucket, only tastier.

There are quite a few Buttermilk Biscuit lovers in the blogosphere; here are a few recipes:
Accidental Hedonist's Buttermilk Biscuits

The Buttermilk Biscuits on Baking Sheet rise gorgeously high

Orangette’s Buttermilk Biscuits are made with Southern Flour (I don't know what it is, but I think I'd like it)

Mile High Biscuits from Meathenge look especially tasty modeled by Southern Biscuit Barbie

Buttery Buttermilk Biscuits
Adapted from Food & Wine magazine and Natalie Chanin
With so few ingredients, each one should be the best, so use a good quality unsalted butter that you really like. I used Plugra European style that you can find in most supermarkets. Kerrygold Irish butter and Organic Valley butter are two other brands that are delicious and widely available.

Makes 8

2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 stick unsalted butter
¾ c. buttermilk

Prep the butter up to several hours ahead. With a floured knife, cut it into ¼ to ½ inch cubes. Spread the cubes out on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Whisk together the flour baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add the cold butter, fold into the flour and combine, using your fingers to break up the chunks of butter into slightly flattened bits. At this point, the dough will still be very powdery and should not come together. Add the buttermilk and stir gently with a wooden spoon just until all the flour is dampened. If you still have a lot of excess flour, add a few more drops of buttermilk until you have a barely cohesive, shaggy mass of dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat the dough together with floured hands. Flatten into a thick disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 2 hours.

While the dough chills, preheat the oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the disk of dough on a lightly floured surface and roll out to ½ inch thick. Use a floured metal 2 ½ to 3 inch biscuit cutter to stamp out as many biscuits as you can, dipping the cutter into some flour with each biscuit. Place biscuits on the baking sheet. Collect the dough scraps, quickly re-roll and finishing stamping out biscuits. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until risen and lightly browned. Serve immediately with butter.

Having proper nutrition is extremely important to staying healthy and avoiding certain types of diabetes. If you are looking for medical advice on nutrition or any other topic, check out this informative site today!

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Fabulously Simple Whole Wheat Bread—No Yeast Required

It officially does not get any easier than this. This Quick Whole Wheat Molasses Bread is a little sweet, tender as a muffin and ready for the oven in 10 minutes—no rising necessary. And thank goodness, because I was feeling no tolerance for difficult bread recipes this week.

I had a bad run of luck last week due to two attempts at a whole wheat yeast loaf that failed to rise both times. I had made this recipe successfully once before, so it was even more irritating. Consequently, I was a little put off by yeast breads. I had recently pulled this recipe from the
New York Times because it reminded me of my favorite Irish Soda Bread both for its simplicity and its use of whole grains. While Irish soda bread may always be my favorite healthy quick bread, this Whole Wheat Molasses loaf is a very tasty and very different option.

The lack of yeast means this is a quick bread, or a baked good that uses baking soda, baking powder or a combination as its leavener (muffins and scones also fall into this category). It does not have the chewy crust of a yeast loaf, but the crumb is dense and soft, kind of like banana bread. Molasses provides the sweetness that develops into a wonderfully nutty flavor that reminds me of a cross between maple syrup and soy sauce (never mind that description; it’s just good).

The molasses can be considered either the best or worst thing about the recipe depending on how you feel about this syrupy sweetener. During the cooking and baking process of this bread, I was very afraid. I thought I would have to redo it with honey because the molasses scent was strong and not entirely appealing. If you feel this way too, stay the course! Once the bread was cool and I slathered it with Irish butter, all was forgiven. Aside from moisture and a completely unique sweetness, the molasses gives this quick bread incredible moisture and a dark sugar-brown color. I know I will jump back on the yeast bread train eventually, but this is a handy recipe to have around when you want bread that is hearty, delicious and fast.

Quick Whole Wheat Molasses Bread
Adapted from Mark Bittman for the New York Times
This is a distinctly flavored bread, but that’s why I like it. If you are wary, Bittman says you can lighten up the texture and flavor and still keep the simplicity of quick bread by doing the following: use 1 ½ c. whole wheat flour and 1 ½ c. white flour; omit the cornmeal; substitute honey for the molasses; beat one egg into the wet ingredients.

Makes 1-9 x 5 inch loaf

Butter, for greasing pan
1 2/3 c. buttermilk or 1 ½ c. lowfat milk mixed with 2 tbs. white vinegar
2 ½ c. whole wheat flour
½ c. stone ground corn meal
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
½ c. molasses

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. If you are using milk and vinegar, combine them in a bowl or measuring cup and let them sit while you measure the dry ingredients. Grease a loaf pan (preferably nonstick) thoroughly with butter.

Whisk the flour, corn meal, salt and baking soda together in a large bowl. Mix the molasses into the milk-vinegar mixture or buttermilk. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir gently just until combined. Pour the dough into the prepared pan and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until bread is firm and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then remove and cool completely on a wire rack.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Pumpkin Doughnuts

There are certain things that everyone should do at least once. The list could be long and varied, but here are a few that come to mind:
  • Spend time in a foreign country
  • Go skinny dipping in the ocean
  • Stay out all night
  • Fall in love

As it's true in life, so it goes in the kitchen. At least once, everyone with an inclination toward the culinary arts should bake yeast bread, try their hand at a souffle (see this post for inspiration), throw a dinner party and make sushi rolls (with or without raw fish). This past weekend, I added a new item to that list--make your own doughnuts. Like so many other food-related achievements, it was not nearly as complicated as we thought.

I got pumpkin doughnuts on the mind recently as I read all the blogs and magazines full of seasonal dishes spiced with warm fall flavors. When I saw Ivonne's, aka Cream Puffs in Venice, glowing recommendation of a recipe for pumpkin doughnuts from epicurious.com. I am not one to whip out the deep fryer at the drop of a hat (difficult, because I don't own a deep fryer), so I doubted that I would act on my desire to beat Dunkin' Donuts at their own game. Then I mentioned the pumpkin doughnuts to Mike, and he lit up like, well, a Christmas tree. Off we went to buy a deep fry thermometer and a whole lot of canola oil, and we were ready to go.

Just in case you're thinking,

"Why do I have to fry my own doughnuts just to prove my culinary mettle, anyway?"

I have two words for you: Krispy Kreme. Just think how amazing a hot, fresh doughnut tastes melting on your tongue. I will warn you that these are more like a cake doughnut than a Krispy Kreme, and I actually preferred to eat mine once they cooled off. But the most important reason for you to make them is that it is really fun! Just follow the directions to keep the oil roughly between 365 and 370, and this is one of the easiest cooking projects you'll ever do. I would also recommend increasing the quantity of all the spices in the recipe, as I felt it was a bit stingy with those fall spices. It took us a total of about 5 minutes to fry the doughnuts to a sufficiently deep brown color, but otherwise, we followed the instructions in the recipe. Do a test donut to see how it cooks, inside and out. If pumpkin's not your thing, here are a couple more tasty recipes that I came across for cardamom-glazed and espresso-glazed doughnuts. Now, if you too are a fan of Dunkin' Donuts famous advertising slogan, repeat after me:

"It's time to make the donuts."

This dough was moist and sticky, so ample flour was used when handling it. We used a 2 1/2 inch biscuit cutter to cut the large rounds and the lid from a bottle of olive oil for the holes.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Simple Skillet Cornbread

Let your inner Southern granny shine through with my favorite recipe for cornbread. There are no frills like diced jalepenos or chipotle peppers here. This is simple, delicious food that depends on good quality, stone ground cornmeal and buttermilk for its moist, yet crumbly texture. The technique of adding melted butter from your oven-heated cast iron skillet to the batter is genius. You then pour the surprisingly light batter into the hot, butter-coated skillet and watch it sizzle as a crisp, brown crust immediately begins to form. I do have to recommend that you use a heavy, NOT nonstick skillet such as an old-fashioned cast iron pan, in order to form that lovely crust. If your pan is smaller or larger than my 9-inch skillet, just add or subtract a bit of baking time and tent the cornbread with foil if the top browns too quickly.

Whether you are eating this cornbread with Southern barbecue like we did in my previous post, or with another homey dish such as chili or fish stew, it will become a favorite in your repertoire. You can easily whip up the batter in 5 minutes and bake it while you prepare the rest of the meal. It's quite healthy in its simplicity, and I guarantee you will start looking for reasons to bake this bread (hint: it is also amazing topped with a runny fried egg for breakfast)!

Skillet Cornbread
Adapted from Hodgson Mill (on the back of the cornmeal bag)

1 c. stone ground cornmeal (164 g)
1 c. whole wheat pastry flour or all-purpose flour (134 g)
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 tblsp. honey
1 egg
1 ½ c. buttermilk
1 1/2 tblsp. butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cornmeal, baking powder, soda and salt. Add the honey. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg with the buttermilk. Add the egg mixture to the cornmeal mixture and stir to combine with your whisk or a wooden spoon. Meanwhile, put the butter in a 9-inch cast iron skillet and place it in the oven until the butter melts completely. Pour the hot butter into the batter and combine. Immediately pour the batter into the hot skillet and bake in the center of the oven for 20 minutes or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve immediately or keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week. This bread reheats very well in the microwave on low power.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread

Ciabatta is a tremendous sandwich-holder. Baguette is divine with butter or as a toasty crostini base. Focaccia is king all on its own. I am powerless to resist the best versions of all of these, but when I want bread for my morning toast or something thick and hearty to eat with a bowl of soup, I reach for whole wheat. I love the dense texture, as opposed to the airy center of a proper baguette. I adore the crunch of seeds and whole grains, even if they occasionally get stuck between my teeth. One of the most satisfying snacks I can eat is a slice of fresh, untoasted whole wheat bread, baked with honey for a touch of sweetness, slathered with best-quality, unsalted butter.

This way, and no other, is how I eat my Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread. I found the recipe for this bread in the homey little cookbook produced by my elementary school in the late 80s, but the first time I made it, I was in my late teens. Although I really didn’t know what soda bread was, it caught my eye because of the whole wheat flour and the fact that no yeast was called for in this free-form, round loaf. I had never made bread, yeasted or otherwise, and this looked unbelievably simple. Actually, I was afraid some vital ingredient had been left out of the recipe by accident.

I have altered the original to make it sweeter with more honey in the batter and a generous sprinkling of sugar over the top. Despite this, the nutty, wheat flavor dominates just enough to call for a generous pat of butter to coax out the sweetness. Eat it this way with a meal or an afternoon coffee. It could become a dessert or breakfast bread, spread with fruit preserves. Mike and I recently had it with a veggie and goat cheese frittata and some pink sparkling wine for brunch. Strange as it sounds, we were both certain that the buttered soda bread made the delicious bubbly even better. I have heard people say that certain wines contain flavors of toasted brioche. Certainly it could be possible to detect notes of sweet whole wheat bread in your favorite sparkler, couldn’t it?

After combining the wet and dry ingredients, the consistency of the dough should be wet and sticky, but thick enough to hold its shape.

Use a spatula to scoop the dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and form it into an 8 inch circle.

Good unsalted butter is a must.

Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread
I play around with different flour combinations every time I make this. I order an Irish-style whole meal flour from King Arthur that I really like. My current favorite is 1 cup Irish flour and 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour. All whole wheat flour is absolutely delicious too. Any coarse sugar is great here because it won't dissolve completely in baking, but granulated will work in a pinch. When you shape the loaf, only make it about 1 ½ inches high. Test with a toothpick or cake tester after 25 minutes, though you may need to bake for 30 minutes or a bit more. The bottom should be deeply browned when done.

2 c. whole wheat flour (or any combo of whole wheat, whole wheat pastry and Irish style)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
1 c. buttermilk
2-3 tblspn. honey
turbinado sugar

Preheat oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk and honey. Add more or less honey, depending on how much sweetness you prefer. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the flour mixture. Stir until just combined.

Sprinkle some sugar in the center of the parchment paper and spoon the dough out on top. Use a spatula to shape it into a circle, roughly 8-9 inches in diameter and 1 1/2 inches high. Sprinkle sugar all over the top of the loaf. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean, and bottom of loaf is browned and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool completely on a rack (at least 2 hours), then cut into slices. Keeps in the refrigerator for 5 days and in the freezer for 3 months.

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