Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mom's Lemon Bars

Lemon bars are simply luscious.  Rich shortbread, smooth, tart and tangy lemon filling and a nice sweet dusting of powdered sugar.  I know it's cliché to say that your mother makes the best this or that.  I do love these though.  I'm sure the recipe came from a good friend or relative back when I was knee-high to a grasshopper.  And they are wonderfully easy to make.  Just mix up a simple shortbread, pat it in a pan, bake it off, top it with the filling, bake again and dust with sugar.  Lemony heaven in a little handheld package.  These are not the sickly sweet, barely citrusy lemon bars that come out of a box.  They have a great pucker to them like a lemon tart.  This particular recipe is not made with sweetened condensed milk in the filling, I don't really go for those kind myself: not tart enough.  Growing up, we would often make them with a batch and a half of filling to yield a mouth puckeringly lemony bar.  If you are a serious lemon lover, feel free to try them that way.  I like them with slightly more filling than cookie.  Just don't double the filling.  It is too much and will slide off when you cut them.  (Ask me how I know.)  ☺  Depending on the type of crust you prefer, you can either cream the shortbread with a mixer, or pulse it in a food processor.  Creaming gives a result similar to a Russian Teacake - rich and melt in your mouth.  Blitzing with a food processor to small pebble texture will give a slightly more crisp shortbread/cookie crust.  I like both kinds and it really depends on what I care to wash up after I've made the crust.  Of course fresh lemon juice is better and gives the opportunity to add some zest either to the filling or the crust as you see fit.  I zest one lemon into the filling mixture with a microplane grater.  Be sure to mix the filling gently and by hand.  Using a mixer whips in too much air and you won't get that beautiful, gem like yellow filling.  That clear, brilliant color is another thing I love about this recipe.  Give it a try, it always goes fast and gets repeat requests for recipes and "please bring it again!"

Mom's Lemon Bars

1 cup butter
½ cup powdered sugar
2 cups flour
6 tbsp lemon juice (fresh squeezed is better - save some zest for the filling)
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups sugar
¼ cup flour
Extra powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Line a 9x13" pan with parchment or tin foil and lightly grease.  This makes removing the bars to cut SO much easier.  Cream butter and powdered sugar and mix in flour just until blended.  Or cut butter into flour mixture with a pastry blender or rub in with your fingers until clumps start to stick together.  You can also combine flour and powdered sugar and pulse into butter using a food processor until pebbly.  Press into the pan.  Bake for 15-18 minutes or until light golden brown.  Meanwhile beat eggs and lemon juice together in a medium bowl with a fork.  Combine the ¼ cup flour and sugar and beat in gently with a fork.  Try not to whip any air into the filling mixture.  Pour onto crust, (doesn't matter if it's hot right out of the oven) and bake for another 20 minutes.  The edges will be bubbly and the center will have just a slight jiggle but will be set.  Cool on a rack for a few minutes and then dust with powdered sugar to your liking.  Let the bars cool halfway before trying to remove or cut and they will hold together much better. 

For presentation, cut off the bubbly edges as they are somewhat chewy and serve the perfect squares to guests and so forth.  Save those trimmings for yourself or your family.  Or yourself.  Yes, yourself should do nicely.  (Seriously, we always fought over the edge trimmings growing up.)  Depending on how you line the pan, you may need to cut off the short edges to get the rest free to lift out.  Ask me if there are any edges left of the batch I made a few hours ago...  ☺

Monday, December 6, 2010

New England Chowder for a change

Something about constant cold weather makes me want soup all the time.  It's warming, comforting and good for you to boot.  Especially when you can use homemade broths.  The girls and I prefer Manhattan style clam chowder most of the time.  It's what I grew up with.  But my darling husband really prefers New England style clam chowder.  So, every so often I'll make up a batch of that for him.  Judging from the vocalizations and slurping I hear coming from the table right now, this batch turned out really well.  The first time I made New England clam chowder, I looked up dozens of recipes and tried to create something that had the elements my hubby prefers.  Chunky potatoes, little celery if any, good clammy flavor, and not too terribly thick.  Thickness of chowder is a very personal preference.  I grew up loving it quite thick but now I think I like it just nice and creamy.  More of a soup and less of a stew.  We also love bacon in our chowder, but have found that you can keep it reserved to add after serving if you have a vegetarian in the family and the soup will still taste good.  I usually add a bit of butter to make up for the lost bacon grease.  Gives it more flavor.  So here is my take on New England style clam chowder.  If I still lived on the coast, I would use fresh clams when possible, but for everyday and out of season I have found a brand of canned clams that I really like.  It is therefore twice the cost of the standard brand of clams and clam juice.  Oh well.  I stock up when they run it on special.  The cream makes this a nicely filling and immensely satisfying soup, so go easy.  You can always go back for seconds.  ☺

New England Clam Chowder
Serves 6-8

4 (6.5 oz.) cans chopped clams, undrained (Bar Harbor is a brand I have found to be more tender and less gritty than others available.)
2 (8 oz.) bottles clam juice + 2½ c water (or fish stock if you have it - I happened to have some in the freezer that I used in this batch.)
6-8 slices thick, good bacon, chopped  (Hempler's, if you can get it, is exceptional bacon.)
1 tbsp butter
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 tsp minced garlic, optional
3 tbsp flour
4 medium yellow potatoes, scrubbed and diced
1 bay leaf
¼ tsp dried thyme (a sprig of lemon thyme is fabulous if you have it.)
~1 tsp sea salt or to taste
¼ tsp white pepper
1 tbsp dried parsley
1 cup heavy cream
3 shots tabasco sauce
fresh gound pepper to taste

Fry bacon in stock pot over medium low heat until crisp, but not crunchy.  (I like to use kitchen scissors to snip it right into the pot.)  Remove and set aside in a bowl.  Feel free to add an extra slice or two to deal with passersby snitching pieces to snack on.  (Who me?  Blink blink...)  Keep about 1 tbsp bacon grease in the pot. 

Add the tbsp of butter and saute the onion, celery and optional garlic until softened.  (I don't often use anything but fresh anymore, but the jarred minced garlic is good in this case as it doesn't overpower the chowder.) 

Add the flour to the onion mixture and cook for about a minute. 

Slowly whisk in the clam juice and water or fish stock.

Add the bay leaf, thyme and potatoes and simmer over medium low heat for about 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender.  Remove bay leaf.

Add cream, clams with juice, parsley, white pepper and tabasco.  Bring to simmer and season to taste with sea salt and fresh ground pepper.

You may thicken this soup more if you like with flour, starch or instant potatoes.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Honey Buttermilk Bread

This soft, tender, slightly sweet and tangy bread has always been one of my favorites.  Whenever we made it growing up, half the loaf usually disappeared pretty quickly with butter and jam.  It makes wonderful toast and sandwiches.  This is the kind of loaf that needs to cool completely before slicing.  Which is rough because it is quite delicious.  The dough will also make dinner rolls that are delightfully soft and fluffy, though we always made bread out of it.  Recently, I tried it with greek style, honey flavored yogurt instead of buttermilk, since I tend to have that on hand more often.  It was fabulous that way!  Feel free to try it with either one.  If you are afraid of the crumb being too delicate, use bread flour or a high gluten flour instead of the all purpose flour.  My King Arthur all purpose and white whole wheat worked just fine in the loaf you see above.  I do recall using lots of "Better for Bread" flour years ago when we used to make this back in high school. 

Honey Buttermilk Bread
makes 1 loaf

2 tsp Instant Yeast
1½ cups white whole wheat flour
1½-2 cups all purpose flour
1½ tsp sea salt
¾ cup buttermilk OR 1 (6 oz.) carton honey flavored greek yogurt
3 tbsp honey
1 tbsp butter, softened
½ cup warm water

Bring all ingredients together into a soft dough.  Depending on whether you are using buttermilk or yogurt, the amount of flour you need for an elastic, soft dough will vary.  Yogurt requires less flour, buttermilk more.  Knead until smooth and slightly elastic.  This will remain a fairly soft dough.  Alternately, use a stand mixer or bread machine to knead.  Allow to raise in a covered bowl until doubled in size, about an hour.  Turn out dough onto a lightly flour board or cloth and form into a loaf.  Place in a greased 9x5" loaf pan and allow to rise until loaf has crested about an inch over the lip of the pan, 45 minutes to an hour.  Bake at 350º for 30 - 45 minutes until golden brown and hollow sounding when thumped on the bottom.  Cool completely before slicing.

This is adapted from another one of those good old DAK recipes

This makes the most fabulous french toast.  It freezes wonderfully and reheats in the toaster for mornings on the run.  One of my daughter's new favorite breakfasts.

This will go up for yeastspotting!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Bakers, start your fruitcakes!

Fruitcake.  You either love it, or you hate it.  For many people, it's that indigestible red and green impersonation of a fruit product called candied cherries that makes fruitcake intolerable.  That, or the aspirations toward building material and a shelf life exceeding that of a twinkie.  I have made many versions of fruitcake over the years.  The super dark, heavy fruitcake that takes at least two months to age properly was great for the serious fruitcake lover.  The 30 day friendship cake is really more like a fruited bundt cake, but quite tasty for those who don't like traditional fruitcake.  Unfortunately, it takes a starter from a friend or it will take two months to make as well.  I actually tried out three different recipes one year in a fruitcake taste-off.  One was Emeril's, one was from a famous bed and breakfast, and finally there was the tried and true Free Range Fruitcake by Alton Brown, which I had made the two previous years.

Free Range Fruitcake wins hands down for all our fruitcake loving family members.  Lots of good fruit and flavor, no candied cherries.  It is on the darker end of the fruitcake spectrum, especially because I use white whole wheat flour instead of all purpose.  And with all the good quality fruit in it, it can tend to be a little pricey, but it is worth it.  There's never a crumb left.  The original recipe calls for a 10" loaf pan but I find that it bakes up better in two 8" pans.  Then there is one for the fruitcake loving Dad and one for the fruitcake loving MIL that never said anything about loving fruitcake before.  I have tried making it in mini loaf pans before and while cute, they tend to overbake easily and dry out.  The 8" pans got the best reviews for moistness, texture and flavor.

Free Range Fruitcake

It's pretty straight forward.  Macerate your fruit in golden rum overnight.  (Or longer - it will hold.)

Add some apple cider, sugar, fresh ground spices, and yummy butter.  I have a dedicated coffee grinder that I use for spices.

Simmer for 10-15 minutes, then cool to room temp or at least 15 minutes. 

It will hold from this point too for up to two days refrigerated!  Then bring together the batter at room temperature and bake off.   I recommend greasing your pan very well or even better, lining it with greased parchment.  You don't want all that work and expensive ingredients sticking and coming out in chunks.  Make sure to use the toothpick test or wooden skewer to make sure it's done in the middle.  This is a nice dense, golden loaf.  Once it's done, give it the first baste of brandy or flavored rum.  Let it cool completely before turning out of the pan.  I've done orange rum which was very good, but the brandy really gives a nice finish and traditional flavor.  I'll probably stick to that from now on.

Spritz or baste with spirit of choice every few days when the loaf feels dry.  Do this for up to two weeks.  If you find you have over done it a bit and the loaf is a bit too tipsy, (I did that one year with a different super dark fruitcake), dredge that puppy in powdered sugar a few times and let it sit a week to mellow.  Turns out fabulous.  I like to start my fruitcakes at least one month before I will need them.  A mature fruitcake just tastes better.  Try out Alton's fruitcake, it is truly exceptional!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Versatile Golden Egg Bread

This is one of those breads that is good for just about anything.  It was one of our favorites to make when I was in high school.  Years and years ago.  It's been so long since I made it because the recipe was left at home with Nana.  She says she still uses that old DAK bread book, but I don't believe it.  She never makes bread anymore and I think I'll swipe it next time I'm down to visit.  ☺  However, I did get copies of our favorite recipes.  This was always a vigorous dough that we would toss in the bread machine and then have to keep poking holes in the top of the dough so it wouldn't overflow the dome.  Something that happened more than once.  That old bread machine is still around 20 odd years later, it looks like R2D2 and makes very large round loaves.  It was interesting eating the half circle sandwiches...

I definitely recommend the larger, 9x5" loaf pans for this bread.  The dough is soft and supple, one of those that just feels good to work with.  It is a very happy dough too, and will rise beautifully. 

(Bread making is so therapeutic, why let the bread machine have ALL the fun?)  The loaf turns out tender, yet firm enough to handle cutting while still slightly warm, good for fresh bread-n-butter and jam or honey or even just plain.  It is great for sandwiches, toast, french toast, whatever you may need a good solid country loaf for in the kitchen.  It would make great day old bread for bread pudding.  And it won the seal of approval from the girls.  They are so bread spoiled.

Golden Egg Bread
makes 1 loaf

2 cups white whole wheat flour
1½ cups all pupose flour
3 tbsp sugar
2 eggs
6 tbsp sunflower oil (or melted butter, or melted refined coconut oil or a combo)
1½ tsp sea salt
¾ cup warm water

Bring all ingredients together into a soft dough.  Depending on how you measure your flour, you may need up to an additional ¼-½ cup of flour to achieve a soft, supple consistancy.  (One of these days I will switch to weights...)  Knead until smooth and elastic.  Or use a bread machine or stand mixer to knead.  Allow to rise in a covered bowl until doubled in size, 45 minutes to an hour.  Turn out dough onto lightly floured surface and shape into a rectangle, fold in thirds (longs ends in) and roll up into a loaf, folding under ends.  Place in a greased loaf pan and allow to rise until loaf has risen about an inch over the pan lip.  (This loaf has major oven spring.)  Bake at 350º for 30 to 45 minutes until golden brown and hollow sounding when thumped on the bottom.  Allow to cool before cutting.  If you can.  Freezes well, sliced, for a few months.  (Like it ever lasts that long.)

Adapted from DAK

This post will be submitted to yeastspotting!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Corn free candy corn - the lengths a parent will go for their child

Update:  For the most reliable recipe I have tried yet, check out my 2012 candy corn batch.

This time of year I have a lot of specialty cooking to do.  It's rough on your kid when the only thing okay for them to have is a chocolate bar and all the trick-or-treating candies are full of corn syrup and dextrose.  We actually fill our candy bucket with the little mini playdoh pots and they are quite popular.  (Who doesn't like playdoh?)  So last year I tried my hand at candy corn.  There are many recipes out there, all about the same.  It's a very touchy candy, very dependent on temperature and dry ingredients for good texture, and very humidity sensitive.  I'd put it right up there with divinity for being a persnickity confection.  It is so worth it though to have the ultimate Halloween candy accessible for my daughter.  And she loves it.  Bless her heart, she loved all the failures too!  Last year, I think I did two half batches, both of which were too firm.  The first used honey and Lyle's I think and the second I used marshmallow syrup.  (That's a homemade invert syrup made with cane sugar.)  Here's how they turned out last year; I did manage to form single kernels of each color by microwaving the dough to get it soft enough.  But it wasn't pliable enough to make three color ropes.  R was still thrilled.

Last year, I actually only found one recipe that used candy temps.  The rest used timing.  Very unreliable, as no base heat was indicated and stoves vary tremendously.  Boil for 5 minutes over low?  Goop.  Boil for 5 minutes over medium, too firm.  Medium high, you get Bit-O-Honey.  (At least that batch, made with half  honey turned out to be a fabulous candy in and of itself.)  Medium low, you might get what you're looking for.  I highly recommend a candy thermometer.  It also makes a difference how you measure your sugar.  Too much and even if you got your temp right, it will crumble on you.  I noticed that Alton Brown had a new episode of Good Eats last night that made candy corn and he had both temps and weights for ingredients listed.  Nice.  People still had varying results.  Another thing I recommend getting is the non instant kind of dry milk powder.  It is a fine powder just like the powdered sugar and you won't have little bits of undissolved instant milk in your candy.  The end crystalline structure will be much better, finer and closer to storebought.  Oh yes, SIFT your sugar.  Lumps are not your friend here and are difficult to work out.  Plus, the milk needs to be mixed thorougly into the sugar for even distribution.  I ended up with two batches this year.  One where I measured the sugar into level cups while it was still lumpy.

As you can see, even though I got the temperature of my syrup correct, I think there was too much sugar and it turned to something close to maple sugar candy.  Fortunately the girls and I happen to love maple sugar candy.  ☺  I used half maple syrup because of the very fine crystalline structure it gives.  It really messes with the temperature you are aiming for though, because the boiling point is so much lower.  I couldn't even get my sugar to completely dissolve before I reached max temp.  Evaporated cane sugar has a larger crystal than refined white sugar and takes longer to dissolve.  It also tints the candy with a more creamy color, as does the maple syrup and the Lyle's.  If you want the really white tips, used refined sugar and light corn syrup.  I much prefer the flavor of Lyle's Golden syrup, which is made from cane sugar.  It definitely has a golden color to it, but it's easier than making invert syrup from scratch when time is not your ally.  Final try, I used mostly Lyle's and maybe a tablespoon or so of maple syrup for flavor and structure.  I also added a teaspoon of water to help dissolve the sugar and scanted the powdered sugar when measuring it out.  Mine was very lumpy and probably should have been sieved before measuring.  Oh well.  This batch finally worked.  The consistency in the pot after adding the sugar mixture was like caramel frosting.  It firms up after cooling.  The final consistency is like a fondant, modeling chocolate or commercial playdoh.  I used liquid food color.  If this weren't such a special treat, I would avoid the colors or try to find natural colors to have on hand instead.  Artificial dyes sometimes affect my daughter just as much as corn syrup.

This was a half batch and made a TON of candy.  I haven't even gotten through half the dough yet.  So break out your little kid art skills and start making ropes.  A little goes a long way.  Stick the ropes together and flatten slightly, then cut into triangles.  (Yes, I know I got the order wrong, I fixed it in later roll outs.)

You can leave these as is to dry.  I like to shape mine gently a little further to get a better candy corn shape.

Since these are so affected by humidity, especially depending on just where your candy consistancy lies, I decided to stick them in the dehydrator overnight on the very lowest setting.  Worked like a charm and in the morning, they were very close to storebought consistancy.  They'll still pull moisture like anything though, so airtight containers all the way.  Maybe next time I'll try the marshmallow based recipe since I have marshmallows still in the freezer.  (Homemade marshmallows freeze!  Isn't that cool?)  I'll bet I could turn the strawberry marshmallows into Valentine's candy corn...

And now, if I haven't completely scared you away from ever trying it:  Remember, this makes a TON of candy; I highly recommend a half batch.

I recommend whirling the dry milk in a spice grinder or food processor to get a fine powder and better consistency if it is the granular instant milk powder.

Homemade Candy Corn made without corn syrup

2½ cups powdered sugar 250g  (I use powdered sugar with tapioca starch)
1/3 cup dry milk powder (that's 2 tbsp and 2 tsp for a half batch - measure AFTER powdering fine)
1/8 tsp sea salt (scant pinch if using salted butter)
1 cup granulated sugar (I use evaporated cane sugar but get an offwhite color from it)
2/3 cup light corn syrup (I used Lyle's Golden syrup and a touch of maple syrup)
5 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp water (to help dissolve the sugar)
red and yellow food coloring

Sift together the powdered sugar, dry milk and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.  In a heavy bottomed pan, bring the granulated sugar, corn or golden syrup, butter and vanilla to a boil over medium heat.  When bubbles start to form, reduce heat and stir frequently with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula until a candy thermometer reads 225-230ºF.  That's just before thread stage. 

Remove the pan from heat and gradually stir in the powdered sugar mixture until fully incorporated.  Make sure there are no lumps.  Let mixture cool about 20 minutes until still slightly warm.  (Or at least not unbearably hot.)  Divide dough into three equal pieces.  Make a dent in two of the pieces and add four drops of yellow food coloring to one and the recommended combination of red and yellow on the box for orange to the other.  (That was three red two yellow for me and I ended up adding another two red and one yellow to increase the color a bit.)  Fold the sides into the center and keep doing so until the color is evenly distributed throughout the dough.  You should use food gloves, an apron or old clothes and a silicone mat/parchnment/waxed paper if you want to avoid staining things with the color.

Pinch off a small piece about the size of a superball, (smaller than a golfball if you don't have a very long counter space), and roll each color into a long rope.  Push the three ropes together, trim the ends even, and cut into triangle shapes down the line.  Place the candies on parchment or waxed paper to dry.  Store in tightly sealed containers at room temperature.  Separate layers with waxed paper or parchment.

Makes up to 200 pieces depending on how thin you roll the ropes.

(If your candy seems a little tacky, the dehydrator trick worked for me.  Lowest setting was 95ºF and I left them in overnight.)

If your candy sets up while it is cooling, your temperature probably got too high.  It's still tasty though.  Break it into pieces and store in an airtight container.  (This happens to me at least one batch a year.)
If it won't hold a shape the temp was too low, you might be able to knead in some more powdered sugar mixture to fix that.  (It will also firm up a bit as it cools, give it some more time.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cranberry Gem drop cookies

These are a popular cookie in this house and I think they just shout Fall.  I originally made these for an egg and dairy free option for my daughter when we were doing a more strict elimination for her food sensitivities.  Now I don't have to worry so much about eggs and dairy in moderation.  But this cookie is still wonderful.  Darling hubby loves them because they are soft and cakey/chewy, but have a crisp crust when fresh.  They are simply delightful.  To really go overboard, (and drive hubby wild), I might add white chocolate chunks and pecans.  I'd definitely reduce the sugar though in that case as these are nicely sweet and just balanced by the tart cranberries as they are.

When the batter is freshly made, they will tend to spread like the ones you see above.  The next batch may turn out more like a jumble cookie as the flour absorbs moisture from the batter.  They are still delicious, just a little more rustic looking.  If you like flatter cookies, use a light hand measuring the flour.  Whole wheat absorbs more than white flour. You can also slightly flatten subsequent batches before baking.  If you like nice soft cookies, give these a try.  They freeze well and actually taste great frozen.  The other nice thing is that since this is a relatively small batch, you can't be a complete glutton.  ☺  Here's how they bake up when the batter has rested for a while.

Cranberry Gem Cookies
Makes 2 dozen
½ cup sunflower oil - the type of oil seems to make a difference in how they turn out.  We really like this result.
½ cup light brown muscovado sugar, loosely packed
1/3 - ½ cup evaporated cane sugar - use less if your applesauce is sweetened
1 tsp vanilla
¼ cup unsweetened applesauce - also good with cinnamon applesauce, use less sugar
1¾ cup white whole wheat flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp sea salt
1 c. dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 375ºF.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  In a medium bowl, stir together the oil, sugars, vanilla and applesauce with a wooden spoon.  Stir until it comes together in a cohesive batter.  You won't see any free oil.  In another bowl, whisk together the flour, soda and salt.  Add slowly to the batter and stir to almost completely incorporate.  Add the cranberries just before all the flour is mixed in.  Stir until all the flour is mixed in and the cranberries are well distributed.  Drop by rounded tablespoons full onto the parchment or use a full cookie scoop.  Cookies will spread more when batter has not rested.

Bake 12-14 minutes or until light golden brown.  Cool 1 minute on baking sheet, then move to wire rack.

Happy Baking!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Ribollita con Crostini Di Pane

To be more specific, Ribollita con Crostini di "Broa".  Good for both cold weather and cold viruses.  I haven't made this soup in years, but the clipped recipe has been sitting in my favorite recipe binder all this time.  It was fabulous years ago and I think will become a rival for the house favorite, Manhatten style clam chowder.  I didn't think anything could displace that from my daughter's list of favorites.  Well, she raved about this soup.  "Mommy, this looks really good... Mommy this tastes so amazing... Mommy!  You have to put this in my container for lunch tomorrow!   Can we have this for dinner every night?  This is even better than clam chowder."  Daddy finished up his bowl and proceeded to lift it up to slurp the last bit of broth out.  Little sis took the longest, but once she got into it, she drained her bowl too.  Then proceeded to announce that she had tried it, and now she liked it.  Gee, thank you Nick Jr. 

At any rate it seems to be a home run dinner for this family.  I used the Portuguese "Corn" bread I made for the BBB challenge yesterday to make garlic crostini and it was out of this world good.  Now I need to replenish my freezer supplies of chicken broth.  That's one of three big immune boosters in this fabulous savory soup: the chicken broth, the garlic and the onions.  Great for fighting off what ails you.  Fortunately we are all healthy at the moment.  Yay!  ☺  While I do recommend homemade chicken broth, (so easy in the crockpot and almost always tastes better than store bought), I do like the Pacific brand to fall back on when I'm out.  It's okay for my daughter's allergies, so that's great.  I have yet to find a beef broth that is okay, so this weekend, the bones will come out of the freezer for that project.  I actually used napa cabbage in the soup.  Savoy holds together better and might be prettier, but my youngest very carefully picked out every last piece of cabbage and ate it with relish.  Then demolished the rest too.  Great way to get your daily veggies in too.  Fortunately, I have to worry more about that for myself than my children.  Imagine that!  So try this soup out.  It is so worth the ingredients you might not be used to.  Oh yes, ribollita meaning "reboiled", this is technically meant to be made one day and eaten the next.  It tastes better that way, supposedly.  However, as evidenced by the shiny clean bowls tonight, it is entirely edible after a long, slow simmer.  (I finished it a couple hours before dinner time and let it sit, covered, giving it a blast of heat just before serving.)  It is also wonderfully filling.  Enjoy!

Update: To make this in the instant pot, just saute the fennel, celery, onion and carrot until slightly softened using the saute function, about 5 minutes.  Add all the remaining ingredients except zucchini and bread and cook for 10 minutes using the soup or manual mode.  Add the zucchini, check seasoning and adjust, and simmer for a few minutes until zucchini is tender.  Remove bay leaf and serve soup with crusty bread.  Try this one!

Bertolli Ribollita con Crostini di Pane
Serves 8

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil - I used garlic olive oil
¼ cup each chopped, trimmed fennel, celery, onions, (leeks if you have them on hand!) and carrots
1 garlic clove, finely chopped - I used three small cloves
¼ tsp dried thyme - I used 1 generous tsp fresh lemon thyme
6 cups chicken broth (Make this vegan by using veggie broth and one or two additions*)
1 can (28 oz.) italian plum tomatoes, cut up
2 cups peeled and diced russet potatoes
1 ½ cups rinsed and drained canned cannelini beans
1 cup finely shredded Savoy cabbage or Swiss chard - Napa works fine but is not as hearty
1 cup diced, trimmed zucchini
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp each chopped fresh parsley and basil
½ tsp lemon pepper
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 slices (one per bowl) ½ thick diagonally sliced Italian bread
*to make a perfect, flavorful vegan version, use vegetable broth, 3-4 dried porcini mushrooms, minced, and optionally a splash or two of vegan Worcestershire sauce.  This soup passes muster for my vegan in-laws and my teen daughter's vegan friend. 

1. Combine the olive oil, fennel, celery, onion, carrots, garlic and thyme in a large heavy saucepan.  Cover and cook over medium low heat until the vegetables are very soft, about 15 minutes.  Do not brown.

2. Stir in the broth, tomatoes, potatoes, bay leaf, beans, and cabbage or Swiss chard.  Heat to boiling.  Reduce heat to low and simmer 15 minutes.  Add the zucchini, parsley and basil.  Cover and cook 2 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

3. Remove from heat.  Refrigerate for 24 hours.  Just before serving, heat to boiling.  Place a piece of bread in each of 8 soup plates.  Drizzle with a little olive oil.  Ladle soup over the bread and allow to soak up the soup.

(I sliced the bread and broiled it on both sides until light golden brown, then rubbed all the pieces with raw garlic and a scraping of butter.  Olive oil would have been more authentic, but hey, I love butter.  These crispy toasts were wonderful dipped into the soup.  We prefer that to soggy bread.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

BBB - Portuguese Corn Bread... minus the corn?

I miss corn bread sometimes.  I still have a little corn meal in the pantry; I should give it away.  For the most part now, if something has corn or a corn derivative in the ingredient label, you won't find it in our house.  I REALLY hope my daughter can outgrow this allergy, but that and the soy will be the most difficult ones since they affect her so strongly.  So when I first saw this month's BBB challenge, Portuguese Corn Bread, from Elizabeth's blog from OUR kitchen I thought, well fiddlesticks, can't do that one.  But then again, I've been wanting to see if I can't at least approximate something corn like in a bread form.  I've tried corn pancakes and they turned out okay.  Not as mealy as I would have liked, but okay.  The corn flavor is the hardest to come by.  I think I'll try this one again with one more flavor tweak because the texture is so awesome toasted or grilled.  Why even bother, you ask?  I try to make as many things possible available to my daughter in a non-allergenic form as I can so she can have a sense of normalcy and not feel left out.  For instance, I will be making candy corn again this year for her.  Without the corn syrup of course.  That one in particular, the epitome of Halloween candy, makes her feel like she is really missing out.  Just try going through the grocery checkout without seeing little bags of them hanging all over!  So what did I use instead of cornmeal and cornflour?  Farina and millet.  I've heard that millet can give a corny flavor so it was worth a try.
     Tonight I'm going to toast up this rendition and serve it with nice hot Ribollita.  Yum!  Perfect for dipping in soup.  The original is Ribollita con Crostnini di Pane so this would be Ribollita con Crostini di Broa I guess.  ☺

     I ended up with a dough on the slack side (I probably could have added another ¼ cup of flour - not sure if I weighed out the full amount to begin with), and then errands ran longer than I had planned.  That and the fact that the kitchen actually warmed up beyond 67ºF perked up the dough and made it over raise just a bit.  I think I would have gotten a more round loaf with better oven spring otherwise.  I did my folding in bowl with my bench scraper and it worked great.  It's a nice dough.  Next time I may try bumping up the millet flour and cracking some whole millet down into grit sized pieces to use with the farina to see if I can get a more pronounced corn like flavor.  Right now it tastes more like cream of wheat bread, (which it is) but I think the texture is right.  Makes fabulous english muffin toast!  And it actually smells kind of like popcorn when it's toasting.

Broa - Portuguese Corn Bread
based on Jane's (Little Compton Mornings) Pao de Milho
makes one round loaf or two smaller ones

300g boiling water (~1¼ c)
7 g honey (~1 tsp)
145g white cornmeal, finely ground (~1¼ c)  I used farina (cream of wheat)
4g active dry yeast (1 tsp) I used instant yeast
120g lukewarm water (~½ c)
60g whole wheat flour (~½ c)
300g unbleached all purpose flour, as necessary (~2½ c)
15g white corn flour (~2 tbsp)  I used millet flour
10g sea salt (~1¾ tsp)
corn flour for dusting I used regular flour

1. About an hour before mixing the dough, put the cornmeal and honey into a large mixing bowl.  Pour in boiling water and stir well.  Set aside to cool until just warm.
2. When the cornmeal has cooled, pour lukewarm water into a small bowl; add yeast and whisk well.  Set aside.
3. Add the corn flour, wholewheat flour, 275g (~1¾ c) of the AP flour, and the salt to the cornmeal mixture (you'll use some or all of the remaining flour for kneading).  Stir well.  Check temp again to make sure it isn't too hot.  Stir in yeast mixture.  The dough should be pulling away from the side of the bowl.  Don't worry if it's somewhat sticky.  Don't be surprised if it's down right sloppy.
4. Kneading:  Sprinkle a little of the extra AP flour onto the board.  Plop the dough out.
5. Hand wash and dry the mixing bowl.  (Yes, this step is important.  It prepares the rising bowl, gets your hand nice and clean AND allows the dough to rest a little.)
6. Knead the dough by hand about 10 minutes.  Use your dough scraper to keep the board clean.  Add a tiny bit more of the reserved flour if the dough seems sticky but try not to add too much - the dough should be soft.
7. Proofing: As best you can, form the dough into a ball and plop it into the clean bowl (no need to oil the bowl) and cover the bowl with a plate.  Leave in a non drafty area of the kitchen for 20 minutes.
8. After 20 minutes has passed, very lightly sprinkle the work surface with flour.  Carefully turn the dough out.  If necessary, gently spread the dough out (try not to deflate it).  Using the dough scaper and still being careful not to deflate, fold the left side into the center, then the top side, right and bottom into the center.  As you lift it into the bowl, fold it in half once more.  Try to place it in the bowl smooth side up.  Cover the bowl.  Let it proof at room temp for 20 minutes more.  Repeat this step two more times.  Folds are done at 20, 40 and 60 minutes after the first kneading.  It may not be until the third time that the dough looks like the smooth, soft pillow described in books.  The amount of dusting flour used in the three folds is not more than a couple tablespoons.
9. After the final fold, cover the bowl again and let rise in a no draft place until doubled in size.  Depending on the temperature of your kitchen this can take anywhere from 1-4 hours.
10. Shaping:  Turn the dough out onto a floured board.  Gently press out into a rectangle.  Fold the left side into the center, then the top, then the right side, then the bottom.  Turn it over.  Continue to fold it underneath itself to form a tight, even ball without actually deflating the dough.  Place seam side down on a parchment covered peel or cookie sheet.  Cover with a clean tea towel and plastic and allow to rise again until just about doubled.  Another 1-4 hours.
11. Preparing the oven:  About 15 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 400ºF with a rack in the second to top position.
12. Baking:  Spray loaf liberally with water and sprinkle with cornflour.  Slide bread onto stone if using, and bake fore 15 minutes.  Turn oven down to 375º, turn the bread around and bake another 15 minutes until bread sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom. (About 200-210ºF internal temp.)
13. When the bread is done, remove to cool on a footed rack.  Wait until completely cool before cutting the bread.

Some bakers said they needed to bake it longer to finish with a nice golden color.  I accidentally preheated the oven to 500º and even though I tried to let it cool a bit, it was probably around 450º on the stone when I popped the bread in.  My loaf was done in about 29 minutes total and beautifully golden.  I also steamed the oven when I first put it in and a couple minutes later.  Great chewy crust and moist crumb in this bread.  Next time I'll make two smaller loaves and have the dough just a little less slack.  These toasted slices are great with butter and honey and would make super trenchers I'll bet.  Just check out the mouth watering smoked mackerel, olive oil, caramelized garlic, capers and herbs served on the toasted bread in the host kitchen's post!

Happy baking!
Yummy toast!

This post will go up for yeastspotting.

Update:  This bread made absobloominglutely awesome garlic crostini.  Did it under the broiler and was so seriously tasty.

Monday, September 20, 2010

BBB - Brunkans långa

This is great!  The BBB have posted another challenge where I just happened to have the special ingredient necessary, languishing in the pantry, needing to be put to use.  ☺  I don't remember why I bought the graham flour in the first place, but I haven't used it in some time.  Now I will be using it in a great sourdough starter.  This turned out to be a fabulous bread: it's mildly sweet, mildly sour, deliciously chewy, and great for many things.  Soup sopping, toasting, grilling, eating out of hand...  My daughter begged me to cut into it straight out of the oven.  I could barely get her to wait for it to cool.  "I'll blow on it, pleeeease?  It's not too hot..."  She's right though, there are few things better than fresh bread out of the oven, slathered in butter and maybe some homemade jam.

This bread hails from a little bakery in Stockholm where it is baked in loaves more than two feet long.  Check out Grain Doe and the original post for more information.  Now since there seem to be different definitions and even appearances of graham flour floating around in stores, I'll just add mine as well.  Here is what my graham flour looks like and the King Arthur description of their own "graham flour". 

You can see the little bits of bran and germ left in the flour.  Now I don't know if all graham flour is milled from soft wheat but I assume that's why the need for a high protein flour in the rest of the loaf.  King Arthur's AP flour is 11.7% protein, their bread flour 12.7% and their special high gluten flour is 14-14.2% protein.  Since high protein definitions range from 12-14%, I'd guess bread flour would work just fine.  For general baking I only keep AP and white whole wheat on hand.  So I tossed in a couple teaspoons of gluten.  I think it probably would have turned out fine without it.

Here are the directions for getting the graham flour starter going.  This was a pretty easy starter to do, though I admit to adding half a teaspoon of my regular sourdough starter just to give it a jumpstart.  ☺

Graham flour* sourdough:

Day 1, morning:
Mix 60g/100 ml/0,42 cups graham flour
with 120 g/120 ml/0,5 cups water.
Cover with cling film and leave at room temp.

Day 1, evening:
Add 60g/100 ml/0,42 cups graham flour and
60 g/60 ml/0,25 cups water.
Mix, cover with cling film and leave at room temp.

Day 2, morning:
Add 60g/100 ml/0,42 cups graham flour and
60 g/60 ml/0,25 cups water.
Mix. By now, the sourdough should be a little active (bubbly). If not, add a teaspoon of honey, some freshly grated apple or a teaspoon of natural yoghurt. Leave at room temp.

Day 3, morning:
Feed the sourdough with 60g/100 ml/0,42 cups graham flour and 60 g/60 ml/0,25 cups water.
Mix, cover with cling film and put in fridge.

Day 4
By now, the sourdough should be ready to use. If you don’t want to use it right away, you can keep in the fridge if you feed it as above a couple of times/week.

*Graham flour can’t be found everywhere. If you want to recreate an exact substitute, here’s what to do, according to Wikipedia:

Graham flour is not available in all countries. A fully correct substitute for it would be a mix of white flour, wheat bran, and wheat germ in the ratio found in whole wheat. Wheat comprises approximately 83% endosperm, 14.5% bran, and 2.5% germ by mass. For sifted all-purpose white flour, wheat bran, and wheat germ having densities of 125, 50, and 80 grams/cup, respectively, one cup of graham flour is approximately equivalent to 84 g (~2/3 cup) white flour, 15 g (slightly less than 1/3 cup) wheat bran, and 2.5 g (1.5 teaspoons) wheat germ.

Brunkans långa
The long (tall?) loaf of Brunkebergs bageri
2 large loaves

600 g/600 ml/2,5 cups water
1125 g/2,48 lb high-protein wheat flour
375 g/13,2 oz graham sourdough (see above)
20 g/0,7 oz fresh yeast
150 g/5,3 oz dark muscovado sugar
25 g/0,88 oz honey
30 g/1 oz sea salt

Day 1
Mix all ingredients except the salt. Work the dough in a stand mixer for 10 minutes or by hand for 20. Add the salt. Knead the dough for 5 minutes more. Put the dough in a oiled, plastic box and put the lid on. Leave the dough for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes: fold one side of the dough against the centre of the dough, then fold the other end inwards, finally turn the whole dough so that the bottom side is facing down. Put the plastic box with the dough in the fridge and let it rise over night.

Day 2
Set the oven temp to 250 C/480 F. Leave the baking stone in if you use one.

Pour out the dough on a floured table top and divide it lengthwise with a sharp knife. Put the dough halves on a sheet covered with parchment paper and place another parchment paper or a towel on top. I dusted them with some flour at this point. When the oven is ready, put in the sheet or shove the parchment paper with the loaves onto the baking stone. Put a small tin with 3-4 ice cubes at the bottom of the oven. (The water releases slowly which is supposed to be better.) Lower the oven temp. to 175 C/350 F immediately after you have put in the loaves.

After 20 minutes, open the oven door and let out excess steam.

Bake for 35 minutes or until the loaves have reached an inner temp of 98 C/208 F.

Let cool on wire.

Now, you'll get a better crumb when you cut if you can at least wait until your loaf is cool. Or at least not still steaming hot. R couldn't wait that long. I did a half batch and still got two good sized loaves out of it. It was easier dealing with the dough in the fridge with the smaller batch.

This will be submitted to Yeastspotting.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Amazingly fudgy dark chocolate gluten free brownies!

If you know someone who is gluten free or recently diagnosed with a wheat or gluten allergy, these brownies are a great way to ease into gluten free living.  While we are fortunate enough not to have wheat sensitivities in the family, we love these because they are practically indistinguishable from regular flour brownies and give us a break from a traditional grain heavy diet.  I have made these with both Spectrum vegetable shortening and butter.  And as much of a butter fan as I am, I actually liked how they turned out with the shortening better.  (I know, no one was more surprised than I.)  They are also dairy free that way for people to whom that is a concern.  What follows is the full recipe but a great thing to do with these is make a half batch in a loaf pan.  They are better fresh anyway and every piece gets some edge - a good thing for edge fans.  You also can't go too crazy and eat a whole pan full yourself that way.  Not that I'd ever do that...  o.O  You are welcome to add nuts if you like, I'm not a nutty brownie fan myself.  Oh yes, I recommend erring on the side of underbaking with these beauties.  Gluten free brownies do not like to be overcooked.  This recipe actually beat out all the wheat flour recipes I've tried for best fudgy brownie.  Goes to show that living gluten free doesn't have to be a study in giving up your favorite things.  Gluten free or not, give these a try, I'm sure you'll love them!

Fudgy Dark Chocolate Brownies (Gluten Free)

5 oz. good Belgian or dark chocolate (I used 70% Dark chocolate Divine bars but XOXOX Chocolove is deliciously smooth as well)
½ cup unhydrogenated vegetable shortening (Spectrum Organic or Jungle Shortening)
2 pastured eggs, room temperature
½ cup loosely packed blanched almond flour (I used Honeyville Farms)
¼ cup teff flour
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 tsp good bourbon vanilla extract
½ cup semi-sweet mini chocolate chips, divided, optional (Enjoy Life is a great gluten, dairy and soy free brand, available at many grocery stores now)

Preheat the oven to 350º F. Line an 8" square baking pan (or an 8x4" loaf pan for a half batch) with foil or parchment and lightly grease the bottom.  In a small saucepan, melt the dark chocolate and shortening on the stove. Stir together to combine. Set aside.  In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs on medium high speed until frothy. Add the brown sugar and beat until smooth.  Add the melted chocolate mixture into the egg-sugar mixture gradually.  Beat well for a minute or so. The chocolate should look smooth and glossy.  In another bowl, combine the dry ingredients: almond flour, teff flour, sea salt and baking soda; whisk together. Add the combined dry ingredients into the chocolate mixture and beat well for a minute. Add the vanilla and beat to combine.  Stir in half the chocolate chips and spread the batter into the prepared baking pan.  Shake the pan a little bit to even out the batter.  Sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips evenly over the top of the batter.

Bake in the center of your oven for 25 to 30 minutes, (around 15 for a half batch) or until the brownies are set.  Don't overcook.  (Gluten free brownies get crumbly if you bake them too long.)  My oven runs fast and hot so I often start checking things 10-15 minutes early depending on the recipe, even after turning it down.  Be vigilant on your first run.  Cool on a wire rack; remove the brownies from the pan by pulling on the foil edges.  Chill for ease of cutting.  Gluten free baked goods do tend to freeze well if desired.  

Makes 9-16 servings depending on how gluttonous you wish to be.  ☺  I cut the half batch into 8 squares.  Store tightly covered or they will tend to dry out and get crumbly.  They might last better in the fridge.  (Aw who are we kidding, how long are they going to last anywhere?)  But I understand they are fabulous chilled!

Flavor options:  If you like minty brownies, try using the mint flavored dark chocolate bars for a subtle hint of mint, or add a tsp of peppermint extract to the recipe as well for an even bigger hit.

I like to add a tsp of espresso powder to my brownies to really enhance the chocolate flavor.

Adapted from gluten-free goddess

Friday, August 27, 2010

BBB bakes Sweet Portuguese Bread

Host kitchen for the BBB this month was Tanna at My Kitchen in Half Cups, and she chose a wonderful sweet loaf to make.  Can I just say once again how much I love working with a dough as silky soft and supple as this one was?  And it bakes off so tender too!  The crumb is absolutely pillowy soft.  (Even when you leave it in a few minutes too long.)  I used instant yeast instead of the osmotolerant and it was still very happy dough.  The range for the brown sugar was 30 - 100 grams and I used a mix of brown and granulated coconut sugars.  The granulated form of coconut sugar has a caramely flavor to it that I thought would be nice in a sweet bread.  And since I didn't have any spuds on hand for potato water, I added a teaspoon of potato starch to give an approximate effect.  It seemed to work; like I said, the dough was heavenly to work with.  Oh, my two loaves were done in about 35-40 minutes.  Much faster than specified, but my oven tends to run hot even when I turn it down.  Next time I'll take them out earlier and probably bake in a cake pan.  I'd also skip the egg wash and brush with melted butter after baking.  This bread made fabulous french toast; my daughter went bonkers over it and had it for both breakfast and lunch the next day.  And what regular toast it makes too.  Mmmm, mmm!  Give it a try, I'm sure you won't be disappointed!  And from what I've seen of the other posts, this one has been baked repeatedly this month.  ☺

Sweet Portuguese Bread
(Massa Sovada)

Over night sponge:
72 grams bread flour
2 ¼ teaspoons osmotolerant yeast (Instant Yeast worked just as well too)
114 milliliters potato water, or whey or water (potato water or whey really make it extra tender & soft)

Mix together the sponge ingredients the night before baking the bread.  Leave sitting at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours (overnight).

6 tablespoons butter, room temp.
30 to 100 grams brown sugar
lemon zest
1 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, room temp.
120 milliliters milk, room temp.
460 grams bread flour (you can use part whole wheat if you like)
2 tablespoons flax seeds, ground

Beat sugar and butter until creamy. Add zest and salt and beat. Beat in each egg separately and completely; mix will appear curdled. Stir in milk and sponge. Stir in 2 ½ cups flour and beat vigorously (in a stand mixer it would clear the sides of the bowl, by hand lifting the spoon up should stretch the dough about a foot.)  Add remaining flour to make stiff dough. Knead 5 minutes or more to incorporate all the flour. Dough should be smooth, soft and very supple with a slight stickiness. Looks a little like very thick cake batter or a brioche dough.

Shape into ball, oil bowl and dough ball. Cover and allow to rise about 2 hours, should almost or triple in size. Divide into loaves, shaped into balls. Allow to rest 20 to 30 minutes before final shaping with rolling pin.

Press in a cross and then an X with a narrow rolling pin. For best demarcation of indents be careful to dust dough ball well with flour.  (I used a wok chopstick to indent my dough.)

Shape and place into well oiled cake pans seam side down. Allow to rise an hour to 2 hours; more than double in size. Brush with egg wash if you want that beautiful glossy finish. Bake 350°F: 50 minutes as two loaves, 35 minutes as four loaves.  (Or until done in your oven!)

I think this would make a fabulous braid too!  May try that next...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Calico Eggs - using the bountiful garden zucchini

Everyone has their favorite way to prepare scrambled eggs.  This is one of ours.  My youngest daughter has been willing to practically wrestle for these since she was about 18 months old.  I originally made it with diced tomatoes and zucchini.  However, one day when I did not have tomatoes on hand, I substituted salsa and we loved it that way.  Over the years you learn not to plant too many zucchini in the garden, but in case you have an abundance of the little buggers waiting to be used up, this is one more way.  I still remember the stories my high school english teacher used to tell of the time she planted an entire row of zucchini as a novice gardener.  It got to the point where the neighbors would lock their doors and pull their shades when they saw her coming with a paper bag...  ☺  This year with just one nice big plant, I have enough production to use up without ending up with the huge "cow" zucchinis.  Of course we would usually just shred those for later use in quick bread.  Great Grandma's zucchini bread was THE best.  Anyway, this little recipe/formula can be adapted to taste and to feed as many as you would like.  I love using my handy dandy veggie chopper for the zucchini, as I detest chopping by hand.  We like cheddar cheese in it, but you could use anything you prefer.  Pepper Jack would really add a southwest kick to it, paired with the salsa...

Calico Eggs
feeds 2-3

3 farm fresh eggs
1 tbsp milk or cream
1 small garden zucchini, diced
2 tbsp salsa
2-3 tbsp shredded cheese
1 tbsp butter

Melt the butter in a small skillet and saute the zucchini until slightly tender. 

Meanwhile, beat the eggs and milk or cream in a bowl.  Add to the zucchini along with the salsa and cook on low.

Season as desired with salt and pepper.

At this point you can either sprinkle the cheese on top and finish it in the oven, frittata style (very pretty), or you can simply scramble in the cheese as well.

Invariably when I make this to share with my daughter, I hear a lot of "My turn, my turn, MY turn!"  Followed by "um, num" noises of appreciation.

These are nice and fluffy and very tender.  Just remember to cook your eggs over a low flame or burner.  And if your salsa is particularly runny, you may saute it with the zucchini to remove some of the moisture.  This is also a nice fresh dish when made with garden tomatoes.  Enjoy!