Saturday, February 27, 2010

Whole Grain Hamburger Buns

Why buy buns when homemade are so much better...  For most of the girls' lives they have eaten just the middle out of hamburgers.  Sometimes they would try a bite or two, more often there would be the two halves of the bun left on the plate.  In the past year or so it has been more for allergy reasons that R is banned from the bun.  Then there's the waste factor.  Who ever uses the whole package of buns for one family dinner?  Not us.  They either get forgotten on top of the fridge until they mold, or stuck in the freezer where they turn into little dry hockey pucks.  Into the compost they go, six months to a year later...  I really dislike waste.  It seriously bugs me.  Which might be considered odd since I am definitely not the sparkling clean housekeeper.  You'd think I wouldn't mind.  No accounting for quirks I guess.

At any rate, after those lovely ensaïmadas we made last week for the Bread Baking Buddy challenge, I got to thinking about hamburger buns.  Picked up some beautiful 16% fat grass fed hamburger - yes, expensive - at Whole Foods.  I don't believe I will ever go back to the lean stuff!  Those burgers were awesome!  Nothing like a little (totally good for you if pastured) saturated animal fat.  Then I went and dug out the recipe for burger buns that I bookmarked a year ago.  Now granted, you do need to plan ahead just a little bit to have the buns done in time for dinner.  I take advantage of the dough cycle on my bread machine.  (That's all I ever use on it anyway.)  It's still only ten or fifteen minutes hands on time.  Granted, I am a stay at home mom with the "luxury" of more flexible meal prep times.  A working person might have to make these on a weekend.  We will find out how well they freeze later on as I did make the full batch of eight buns this time.  I did not slice them; I think they will last better frozen whole:  less moisture loss.  Next time I may work on getting the same result without an egg in the dough, but since that is not a severe allergy for R, I decided to allow the one egg this time.  I'll probably try a little flaxseed meal and/or maybe some milk or cream and extra butter.  The nice thing is, without the egg, the recipe will be much easier to scale down.  But that's for next time.  Here is the recipe for this time:

Whole grain hamburger buns
Makes 8 buns

1 cup lukewarm water
2 Tbsp butter
1 medium egg
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups white whole wheat flour
¼ cup sugar
1 ¼ tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp Instant Yeast

Mix and knead all of the dough ingredients - by hand, mixer, or bread machine - Use additional flour if necessary to make a soft, smooth dough.  Cover the dough, and let it rise for 1 hour, or until it's doubled in bulk.  (This is a happy dough, it may double earlier.)  Gently deflate the dough, and divide it into 8 pieces. Shape each piece into a round 1" thick (more or less); flatten to about 3" across. Place the buns on a lightly greased or parchment lined baking sheet, cover and let rise for about an hour, until very puffy.  If desired, brush buns with melted butter.  If you want to add sesame seeds you will need to use an egg wash to make them stick.  Bake the buns in a preheated 375°F oven for 12 to 15 minutes, till golden.  Cool on a rack.

Adapted from King Arthur.

Normally I would be obsessive and use my scale to make perfectly equal divisions for the buns, but in this case it works nicely to just eyeball it because the smaller ones are good for the kids and the larger ones are fine for Daddy.  These buns were super tasty.  For us parents, the perfect marriage of bread and burger.  The girls, used to leaving the bun off, didn't eat all of it, but did try them and gave a positive verdict.  The hubby chomped, scarumpfed, grunted, nodded and said, "Oh yeah, definitely."  Now if I could just find a corn free hotdog, these would make great buns for that too.  Oh, for the burgers themselves, I just added some fresh minced onion and a dash of steak seasoning.  With that nice fat content, you hardly need any seasoning at all.  I was going to BBQ them but hubby had to work late so I just fried them up in the cast iron pan.  It worked great!  The little bits of onion caramelized and made it so juicy and flavorful.  Mmmmmmmm.  I love caramelized onions...  Even for the girls there were no scraps of burger left over.  This one's a keeper for us.

Update:  It's been almost a month in the freezer and tonight I made hamburgers for dinner and company.  They thawed beautifully and tasted fabulous.  Just like fresh.  I just took them out a few hours before dinner and let them thaw in their bread bag.  Nana, who doesn't usually like hamburger buns, finished every last crumb of hers and said she now understood why I would never buy buns again!  She took home the last bun for my Dad and made him a salmon burger the next day.  He agreed they were infinitely superior to store bought.  Tender, yet substantial enough to hold up to the filling/burger.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ensaïmadas - let's visit Spain!

"A Majorcan favorite, ensaïmadas are warm, yeast-based cakes fashioned into round, coiled shapes."  This is the baking challenge for this month.  Since my brother and sister-in-law just visited spain over New Year's this will be like a nice little return trip.  The question will be whether to make the one big spiral that can be cut and served to many, or the individual little "snails" that are more portable and hand friendly.  I think the little ones will be more conducive to sending to work with the hubby.

Even though it can be more difficult to work with, I must admit that I love soft or slack bread dough.  So far, my all time favorite is the Overnight Ciabatta at Wild Yeast.  That dough is like handling silk; as long as you have enough flour dusted over it.  Sooner or later, I will hit up the butcher for some leaf lard and render it down to have on hand, but for now I will be using butter in place of the traditional lard.  I do love butter...  Evidently, the test for telling if the ensaïmada in question has used lard or not is that a true ensaïmada must stain a piece of paper with the pork lard.  I know some bakers who swear by lard in their pie crusts for the flakiest results.  And it has its highest proportion of fat as monounsaturated fat, so not bad for you.  Interesting factoid:  the increasing incidence of coronary heart disease in America over the last century can be directly correlated to the abandonment of good natural animal fats like butter and lard in favor of processed, hydrogenated, bleached shortenings and refined vegetable oils.  Another good thing about lard the that it has a high smoke point, good for frying.  I understand you actually end up with less grease absorption when frying in lard.  So I guess Emeril was right all along!  More pork fat!  Seriously, when I added more fat back into my diet (along with removing most refined carbs and limiting sugar intake), my triglycerides dropped 56 points to a completely normal reading.  Not to mention the 42 pounds I lost.  Woot!  And I think I at least doubled my fat intake.  Animal fat.  Good stuff.  Sorry, I'll get off my soapbox now and attend to the snails at hand. ☺ Wow, that is some happy dough!  Here is the original recipe and challenge, found at Bake My Day!

(yields about 10 Ensaimadas)

500g all-purpose flour (plus additional as needed)
75g sugar
½ tsp fine sea salt
40g fresh yeast (= 1 cube)
200-250ml lukewarm milk (I scalded my milk because I always seem to get better results that way.)
2 eggs
2 Tbsp olive oil (I used an olive, coconut, sesame oil mix)
150g soft pork lard, bacon grease, or softened butter
powdered sugar for dusting

Add the flour together with sugar and salt into a large bowl and mix well. Make a hollow in the center, add the crumbled yeast as well as a decent pinch of sugar and pour over just enough of the lukewarm milk until the yeast is covered. Stir the yeast milk once or twice, then cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let rest for about 15 minutes or until the surface of the yeast milk looks bubbly.

Add the other ingredients (the remaining milk, eggs, oil ) and knead well, either by hand or with your kitchen machine until the dough comes together nicely.  Add additional flour as needed to make a soft but cohesive dough.  Rest in a covered bowl again in a warm place for at least 30 minutes or until the dough has doubled.

Punch it down softly, then flip the dough onto a well-floured surface and sprinkle with flour. Cut into about 10 equally sized portions and form into neat little balls.  Sprinkle with flour and let rest, covered with a kitchen towel, once more for at least 30 minutes.

To shape the Ensaïmadas: Flatten one doughball, then roll out with a rolling pin (use flour as needed) until you get a pretty thin dough circle and brush it generously with the softened pork lard (or bacon grease or softened butter). Roll up cautiously, then let rest for a couple of minutes and continue with the other dough balls. (Meanwhile line the baking sheets with either parchment paper or silicone mats.)

Coil up each dough piece until it resembles the house of a snail (tuck the outer end under), ideally very loosely, because any spaces will fill up as the dough rises further. Place about five Ensaimadas on one baking sheet, making sure to leave enough space between them. Lightly brush with lard and cover up again.

Preheat the oven to 200°C (~390° Fahrenheit) and bake for 14 to 16 minutes or until golden brown. Take out and let them cool down on a wire rack for a couple of minutes, then generously dust with powdered sugar (leave the bacon grease ones plain) and enjoy while still warm. Greasy fingers included!

And since these are so light and tender, if you serve them this way, they almost taste like a cream puff:

Thanks for the challenge girls.  Yummy!  You know, these turned out well enough that I think I will submit them to yeastspotting

Sunday, February 14, 2010

My Funny Valentine

In the interest of avoiding corn syrup and gee whiz, heck, it's Valentine's Day...  I decided to make some homemade Maraschino Cherries.  Did you know that in the 19th century, maraschino cherries were such a rich person's delicacy that the FDA started protecting the moniker in 1914, requiring all pretenders to employ the word "imitation" on labels?  No corn syrup and red food coloring back then.  Those are a result of prohibition.  The originals were tiny little sour things, brined in seawater and preserved in maraschino cordial, made from wild marasca cherries.  I decided to just go with brandy this time and not get the specialty maraschino liqueur.  It's an acceptable substitute according to the recipe, but you can find Luxardo and Maraska brands of maraschino liqueur at a good liquor store.  Just remember, these take a couple days to finish, so start early.

I started with organic frozen dark sweet cherries but I'd definitely try this with fresh Rainier cherries in season since there are tons of roadside and fruit markets to find them.  I also made a half batch since we don't go through them incredibly fast.  Using sea salt to brine the cherries will give a nice glossy finish as you will see.  Table salt has all kinds of additives, try to avoid it.

Homemade Maraschino Cherries

2 pounds pitted sweet cherries, Rainier preferred
3 Tbsp sea salt
6 cups water

4 cups sugar (I used evaporated cane sugar)
2 limes, juiced
1 cup dark cherries, mashed
1-plus cup maraschino liqueur or brandy
1 teaspoon bitter almond extract (optional)

Brine cherries by bringing 6 cups of water to a boil and adding 3 tablespoons of sea salt; use a salt with no additives to ensure glossy-looking fruit. Remove brine from heat. Halve and pit the cherries, adding them as you go to the still-warm liquid, then let the cherries sit in liquid, overnight at least, in the fridge.

Once the cherries are brined, bring the sugar, lime juice, and 3 cups of water to a simmer in a saucepan. Add the mashed cherries for a deeper, natural color. Let this mixture reduce by a third, then cool and add extract if using.

Drain the cherries and rinse them of brine. In a large, airtight jar, add the sugar mixture and the drained cherries.  You may strain and reserve the mashed cherries from the sugar mixture for a fabulous bonbon filling, which is what I did.  That way you can enjoy some of the flavor while waiting for the real ones to sit for 24 hours.

Top with at least a cup of Maraska maraschino liqueur or substitute a spirit like bourbon or brandy.  Because the cherries are preserved in alcohol, a snap-shut glass jar with a rubber gasket works just fine.  They will keep in your refrigerator for a few months.

That lovely pink color is all from the cherries.  No food coloring required.  Since it is a natural food coloring, it will probably not have a very long shelf life.  Another reason I did a small batch.  The alcohol should help it stay for a while though.

Bonus Bonbons

White chocolate, melted and tempered
reserved cherries from maraschino sugar syrup
chocolate covered cherry mold

Paint the insides of the molds with a teaspoon of white chocolate and pop in the freezer to speed set.  Fill with a scant half teaspoon or so of the cherries.  Top with another half teaspoon of white chocolate to fill the molds and freeze for 10 minutes to set.  Pop them out and serve them up to your honey.

My hubby loves white chocolate and chocolate covered cherries.  Needless to say this little bonus was a big winner.  This lovely little confection elicited groans of delight from him when he tried one and I will definitely be making them again for special treats.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Coconut, toasted nuts, chocolate. Mmmmmmmm.

When you try something ridiculously good, you must pass it on.  And these crunchy, nutty, chocolatey no-bake bars are just that.  Even better, they are exceptionally filling.  So even though they are good enough and tasty enough to eat the whole batch, you can actually be happy with a smaller piece.  If you have ever been tempted to take a box of girl scout Samoa cookies off into a corner and have your way with it, you have got to try these.  Also slightly reminiscent of a Take5 bar.  Special ingredient info:  Erythritol, at least the brand I got,  is produced from organic sugar cane juice, which is naturally fermented and crystallized to create organic erythritol.  Erythritol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol that is found in our bodies, as well as in many fruits, vegetables and even certain fermented foods.  It has a glycemic index of zero and for most people it is highly digestible, unlike some other sugar alcohols.  It is obnoxiously expensive however, so if sugar or carbs are not of concern to you, you could probably use white or brown sugar for just as good results.  One interesting thing about erythritol is that it has a minty cooling effect on the tongue, especially in granular form.  That is why it is powdered in a coffee grinder or magic bullet for this recipe.  It doesn't like to dissolve and powdering it helps.  As originally written, these bars have about 4.35 g net carbs per bar.  (Six bars per recipe.)  I cut them into about 10-12 squares though since they are so filling.

Crunchy No-Bake Snack Bars

½ cup slivered almonds
½ cup pecans
2-4 tbsp golden flax meal
¼ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
¼ cup cashew macadamia butter
¼ cup coconut oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ tsp raw honey
¼ tsp sea salt
3 tbsp erythritol (you may use brown sugar if you don't care about sugar content)
1/8 teaspoon of pure stevia extract (omit if using regular sugar)

Chocolate Ganache Topping

1 bar (3.2 oz) 77% cacao chocolate
1½ tsp organic heavy cream

Powder erythritol in coffee grinder or magic bullet. Toast coconut and nuts (but not the flax!) in a dry pan over medium-low heat or the toaster oven, until slightly browned. Pulse nut and seed mixture in a food processor just until nuts are chopped. Melt coconut oil and nut butter in the microwave for 30 seconds.  Stir until smooth. Add vanilla extract, honey, erythritol, stevia, and sea salt, stirring until fully incorporated.  Fold into nut mixture. Press into an 8 by 4 pan with a spatula. Quick set in the freezer for 20 minutes. Cut into 6 bars. Store in the refrigerator, covered with a paper towel and plastic wrap.

Gently melt together the chocolate and cream.   Stir until completely smooth.  Spread over cooled bars immediately.  Set the chocolate in the refrigerator for 5 minutes.  Take out and score or cut the bars or squares and then return to the fridge to finish setting up.  (If you wait to score or cut, the chocolate will not cut nicely.)  Store the finished bars in the fridge.

Try not to eat them all at once!  (Seriously, if you're not used to flax you could regret it.)  Original recipe credit goes to Lauren at

Friday, February 5, 2010

Gee, I wonder if my carrots overwintered...

After looking at every single offering of commercial beef broth/stock including all the expensive organic and natural ones, I did not find a single one that was perfectly okay for R.  I found one that I could live with for just one time.  I can find chicken broth that is okay, but for some reason the industry believes beef broth "needs" more stuff in it.  So today I will be roasting up some nice marrow bones and making stock.  Also need to come up with a replacement for onion soup mix for the brisket in a bag for tonight's dinner.  Hence, the one package of just okay beef flavored broth.  Fortunately I have homemade cream of... soup mix already made up in the pantry and one leftover home canned cranberry sauce in the fridge.  The brisket is a really tasty recipe, but completely off limits for the girls as originally made. 
And so as I perused the refrigerator's vegetable offerings, I realized I had no carrots.  And I am in the habit of sticking veggie scraps straight into the compost, so I don't save them in a freezer bag for stock.  I don't really make stock that often.  I am going to from now on though.  If there is one thing that my daughter's food allergies have crystallized for me, it is that there is precious little outside of the plain produce, dairy and meat sections in a package that does not have an abominable amount of chemicals, additives and other unnecessary crap.  Corn for one thing is in everything.  Modified food starch, dextrose, maltodextrin, corn syrup solids, high fructose corn syrup, natural flavor, regular corn syrup, crystalline fructose; what the !#@$ is it with all this corn?  And if you have a really serious corn allergy, (which thankfully she doesn't), the list of hidden corn is interminable.  You can't even lick your envelopes without getting some corn.  Sorry, a year and a half of grocery frustration has taxed my patience but also forced me to come up with a much healthier eating plan for the family.  And so back to the good old homemade beef stock and original reason for the post...
I had the onions and celery for the mirepoix, but no carrots.  So I decided to go digging in the garden to find out if any leftover carrots had survived the winter.  It's been pretty mild other than one week of 20º weather.  And here is what I found:

I would say that the carrots did rather well over our mild winter!  I got a good laugh out of it.  And the girls say the small ones are still sweet and tasty!  I should go out and dig up the rest that haven't been eaten on by the squirrel or something.  Of course that giant one is probably woody and good for nothing better than stock anyway.

Anyone else itching to start getting garden ready?  Our super mild winter has everything coming up and blooming much earlier than usual.  I even saw a humming bird at the end of January!  Now that's early.  Even for here in Puget Sound.

BTW, homemade stock smells so fabulous after simmering overnight!  It's like the best steak with carmelized crust and slow roasted veggies all blended into one magnificent olfactory symphony.  Now to skim, strain and cool and freeze...  The only drudgerous part.  :)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Pineapple "candy"

Most commercial candies are off limits to my girls because of food allergies and who wants all that refined sugar and additives anyway?  Don't answer that.  I have had some luck finding replacement candies at specialty grocery stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joes but they are usually bloody spendy!  I remember having crystallized dried pineapple as a rare treat growing up and I still like it.  It still has tons of added sugar though that honestly, it doesn't even need.  (Plus, how the heck old is that stuff you can find in the bulk sections?)  I found out that nice fresh pineapple makes the yummiest, sweetest candy just drying it as is.  Sometime last year I had purchased a large container of chunked fresh pineapple and there was still a little left that was needing to get used up quickly.  Unwilling to throw it out, I tossed it in the dehydrator overnight.  It turned out fabulous!  This is a good one to do when the store is running a particularly good special on fresh pineapple, otherwise it can get spendy as well.  But you know there is only one ingredient here:  fresh pineapple.  Just start with this:

And end up with this:

Now they may look a little rough, but this is a naturally sweet chewy treat that my girls love.  "May I have some more pineapple candy?  Puh-leeeeeease?"  Overnight on the fruit setting, which is 135ºF, should be sufficient.  We like them chewy, not crunchy.  They are almost like little mini fruit leather bites.  Just remember they will be harder once cooled, so take a piece out to check when you think they may be close to finished.  Try it out, it's better than candied!