Saturday, October 29, 2011

BBB makes like a tree and... fougasse

(Yes, you can groan at the title.  Sorry - it got stuck in my head and I had to let it out.)  Boy, just on the line for timing here, but I got my buddy bread baked today!  Elizabeth of blog from OUR kitchen decreed this to be a month for fougasse.  Whatever fougasse you pleased.  I have made foccacia, a similar bread, but never fougasse - a leaf shaped variant.  So I decided to do a recipe from epicurious, lightly scented with anise, orange and orange flowers.  I wasn't expecting too much from the recipe but I was surprised at how much I liked it after it baked up.  The dough smelled delicious, like a cardamom braid only more subtle.  After baking and cooling, which is quick for this flatish bread, I ripped off a piece to try.  It was slightly crispy with a soft and somewhat delicate crumb and lovely subtle hints from the anise and orange.  I didn't have the orange flower water but I did have cake palm sugar which has floral notes that transport me back to my honeymoon in Tahiti whenever I smell it.  A little addition of that as some of the sugar was the perfect substitute for the flower water.  This dough would make admirable dinner rolls.  I also got a very strong impression of regular pizza or foccacia dough as I noshed on it.  It is not as chewy as pizza dough but it sure speaks pizza.  A very intriguing recipe and a fun shaping method.  Give it a try sometime!

makes 2 loaves

For starter
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup warm water (105–115°F)
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast (from a 1/4-oz package)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

For dough
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons table salt
  • 1 teaspoon anise seeds, lightly crushed
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons orange-flower water (preferably French)
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh orange zest
  • 1/3 cup mild extra-virgin olive oil (preferably French) plus 1 tablespoon for brushing
  • 3 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour plus additional for kneading
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons flaky or coarse sea salt
Make starter:
Stir together sugar and warm water in bowl of mixer. Sprinkle yeast over mixture and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If yeast doesn't foam, discard and start over with new yeast.)

Whisk flour into yeast mixture until combined well. Let starter rise, loosely covered with plastic wrap, 30 minutes. 

Make dough:
Add sugar, salt, crushed anise seeds, water, orange-flower water, zest, 1/3 cup oil, and 11/4 cups flour to starter and beat at medium speed until smooth. Mix in remaining 2 cups flour, 1/2 cup at a time, at low speed until a soft dough forms.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, sprinkling surface lightly with flour if dough is very sticky, until smooth and elastic (dough will remain slightly sticky), 8 to 10 minutes. Form dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly oiled large bowl, turning dough to coat with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Punch down dough (do not knead), then halve. Pat out each half into an oval (about 12 inches long and 1/4 inch thick), then transfer to 2 lightly oiled large baking sheets.

Using a very sharp knife or a pastry scraper, make a cut down center of each oval "leaf," cutting all the way through to baking sheet and leaving a 1-inch border on each end of cut. Make 3 shorter diagonal cuts on each side of original cut, leaving a 1-inch border on each end of cuts, to create the look of leaf veins (do not connect cuts). Gently pull apart cuts about 1 1/2 inches with your fingers. Let dough stand, uncovered, until slightly puffed, about 30 minutes.

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 375°F.

Brush loaves with remaining tablespoon oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake, switching position of baking sheets halfway through baking, until loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on bottom, 35 to 40 minutes total. Transfer loaves to a rack and cool to warm or room temperature.

Cooks' notes: Fougasses are best eaten the day they're made.

This post will go up for yeastspotting.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Comparing Candy Corn methods

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

So I mentioned that I was going to try the marshmallow based homemade candy corn recipe.  Here's how it turned out.  It was certainly easier than the cooked version, other than I did have to make my marshmallows from scratch.  I used a half batch of my Lyle's based marshmallow recipe, using invert syrup and substituting 2 tbsp honey for that much syrup.  Turned out good mallows with a just a hint of honey flavor.  The candy corn recipe is pretty simple.  Melt 8 oz of mini marshmallows with 2 tbsp water, then stir and knead in about 1 pound of powdered sugar until smooth and supple.  If you use too much it will get stiff and difficult to work.  Then it's the same job of kneading in some color, rolling out some ropes and sticking together (it may take water to stick this kind together), and cutting into corns.  I added a touch more sugar than I think it needed so mine got stiff after a while.  The recipe I used is here.  The kids loved it, but it's candy and they're not too picky since it is such a special treat.  ☺  I definitely prefer the cooked version.  It may be persnickety on temperature, but the results have better flavor and creaminess.

Winner: cooked mellow creme candy corn

This year's batch:

Now I usually love Alton Brown's recipes, and his candy corn recipe is almost identical to a half batch of the one I use.  I tried his recipe twice and it turned into hard cream candy.  Went back to mine and did fine.  I think it may be the different amount of water and the ingredients I have to use.  Definitely powder the dry milk fine if using instant or the measurement is off.  The milk protein gives the corn that bit of chewiness.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Corn Syrup Substitute for the holidays

Just made a batch of invert syrup in preparation for some upcoming candy making sessions.  (Yes, mine is golden colored, but that's the sugar I used.)  Going to make this year's batch of candy corn but I am going to try out an alternate version that is marshmallow based, kind of like a fondant.  Still need the syrup to make the marshmallows.  I really love using the Lyle's golden syrup for quick and easy marshmallows, but I decided this time to go with the invert syrup for a simpler flavor profile.  I used the standard recipe I use with Lyle's but used the invert syrup and two tablespoons of honey instead.  The thought being that candy corn has some honey flavoring in it.  Not much, but a little.  We'll see if the touch of honey in the mallows translates properly into the candy corn.

photo credit:

 I've learned a few things about making invert syrup in the past couple years.  Number one, you really cannot do a small scale batch - it will crystallize on you.  You can scale down a marshmallow recipe but not the invert syrup.  Number two, if you have a gas cooktop, you will have much better success if you use a heat diffuser.  And number three, you can successfully use a less refined sugar if you so desire and don't mind a more colored result.  You will just have to do some skimming of foam and impurities that surface.  If you are trying to avoid corn syrup but still want to do your holiday confectionery magic, try some homemade invert syrup.  One to one substitution, beautifully clean flavor profile, keeps up to 6 months.  The picture above is made with extra fine granulated sugar.  (It's also that thick because it is chilled.)  The one on top that I made used organic evaporated cane sugar, which has a blonde color out of the bag.  I did have to skim about 2-3 tablespoons of foam impurities while cooking, but ended up with about 3 cups of beautiful syrup.  It is perfectly clear and thick, resting in my fridge now, not a sign of any crystallization going on.  That diffuser really helped.  (With gas stove-tops, a lot of the heat goes up the side of the pan and can affect the outcome.  This is my diffuser, I got it years ago as a requested Christmas present and have only used it a handful of times, but those times have really appreciated the option:

It's nice and flat and takes up no room in my stove drawer.  Hooray for even heating.  So here is the recipe, taken directly from Eddy Van Damme.

Invert Sugar
makes ~ 2 lb 3 oz

4 cups + 6 tbsp granulated sugar (white sugar yields a nice clear syrup, evaporated cane sugar yields a honey colored syrup)
2 cups water
¼ tsp cream of tartar or citric acid (I used the cream of tartar)

If you have an induction cook top or an electric stove use these options instead of gas. (If you have gas, use a heat diffuser.)  In a non-reactive saucepan stir to a boil the sugar, water and cream of tartar (or citric acid).  

Once the mixture boils wash away any sugar crystals stuck to the side of the pan with pastry brush dipped in water.  Any additional water added to the pan from this process has no effect on the final outcome.

On medium heat without stirring boil the mixture to 236°F (114°C).  Remove from heat and cover the pan. Let cool at room temperature.  Store in a refrigerator.*  Invert sugar will last at least 6 months.

* Just in case you are wondering why you should store the syrup in the fridge, the low temperature significantly reduces the molecular movement of the sugar crystals and will slow down any crystallization that may want to occur.

(Here's another trick to help prevent crystallization:  Use two sauce pans.  When you are close to temperature, pour the mixture into a clean pan and finish the last few degrees in that pan.  This helps ensure no crystals introduced from the side of the pan, as does cooling with the lid on.  Also, store your finished syrup in a glass jar as the surface of plastic is more likely to speed crystallization.) 

Using the two pan method, I was able to simply pour it into the jar and not have to worry about ladling or seed crystals.  As of four days later it is still pristinely uncrystallized.  Let come to room temperature for ease of measuring.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sausage and Peppers with Spaghetti... squash

Yes, this was our first time with spaghetti squash.  I think it turned out really well.  Trying to cut back on the amount of grains and starches that get served at the dinner table can be a touchy process.  Fortunately the simple yet delicious dish that this is makes it somewhat easier.  Now I will admit that the hubby said it was good, but he would naturally prefer the old standby of a noodle or rice base.  That being said, he also went back for seconds!  ☺  Spaghetti squash is certainly not as toothsome as those other options but it carried the sauce very well and added a nice bit extra rather than just eating a plain saute.  This recipe comes from Modern Alternative Mama's ebook, Against the Grain.  I already had everything on hand for it except the squash.  Now I will definitely make it again but for a splurge, I might serve it with a little bit of spelt or brown rice pasta.  For a dish so simple, it has wonderful flavor.  I used a local mild italian sausage that we particularly like and managed to find a few leaves of basil in the garden amidst the overgrown sow's thistle.  (That's that nasty, prickly, tall dandelion look alike.)  The whole thing comes together very quickly.  If you use the microwave to precook the squash a bit, it is a 30 minute meal.  I don't use the microwave that much anymore so I started the squash an hour earlier and then prepped the rest.  Give it a try; with or without pasta, it is great.

Sausage and Peppers with Spaghetti Squash
Serves 4-6

1 lb. Italian sausage
2 bell peppers, seeded and sliced
1 small onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 c. diced tomatoes (fresh or canned) (I used one full 14.5oz can)
1 tsp. basil
½ tsp. oregano
½ tsp. sea salt (or to taste)
1 medium spaghetti squash

Preheat oven to 400ºF.  Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Place the two halves cut side down in a baking dish.  Use a fork to poke some holes in the squash.  Add about ½ cup of water.  Bake the spaghetti squash for about an hour, or until soft.  (I held mine on warm until the family was ready to sit down together.)  Slice Italian sausage into ½” thick rounds. In a frying pan, heat olive oil over medium heat.  (I used a mixture of garlic infused olive oil and coconut oil.)  Add the garlic, onion, peppers, and sausage and sauté until the veggies are softened and the sausage is cooked through.  Add tomatoes and spices; cook for 5–10 minutes around medium low heat.  “Comb” the baked spaghetti squash with a fork to get the “noodles” to fall out onto a plate.  Top with sausage mixture.  Garnish with fresh basil if desired and serve with a fresh green salad.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Simple comforts - Tuna noodle casserole

There it is.  It's not glamorous, but it is immensely comforting and nostalgic to me during this cold, wet fall weather.  I've decided I'm pretty much a tuna noodle casserole purist.  It's tuna, it's noodles and not much else.  Just enough stuff to have good flavor and creamy, bubbly sauce.  Of course, that also means you are perfectly welcome to add peas or whatever to your casserole if you love it that way.  The nice thing about this dish is that even though it does not rely on a can, it still comes together in about the time it takes to boil the water and noodles.  I just can't do the can thing anymore.  Bad ingredients.  Besides, homemade tastes better anyway.  Now I would love this with diced onions sauteed with the mushrooms in the sauce as well.  Next time I'll add them too.  But this simple version was great with a liberal addition of fresh ground pepper.  I might even add my obligatory soup dash of tabasco next time.  I love customizable dishes!

Tuna Noodle Casserole
makes enough for 4-6

2 cups uncooked macaroni or noodle of choice
1 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
1 cup milk (or ½ broth, ½ milk)
chopped mushrooms to taste
chopped onions, sauteed in butter until tender (optional)
sea salt to taste
fresh ground pepper to taste (be liberal with the pepper)
1 can tuna, drained and flaked
2 cups cheddar cheese, grated, divided

Preheat the oven to 370ºF.  Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  When the water is boiling, add the macaroni and cook until it still has a firm bite.  (Don't cook the macaroni completely or it will get mushy when you cook it in the oven.)  Drain the macaroni.

While the noodles are boiling melt 1 tbsp butter in a saucepan over medium low heat.  Stir in the flour a little at a time until smooth and cook for a minute.  Turn heat to low and add milk/broth slowly, stirring to keep it smooth.  Get any lumps out early on.  Stir in the chopped mushrooms, as many as you'd like (I used a generous ¼ cup), and sauteed onions if using.  (I would use half an onion if using one.)  Return heat to medium and bring to a gentle boil, stirring constantly until well thickened.  (It will be thick like a condensed soup.)  Season to taste with sea salt and plenty of fresh ground pepper.  This is your seasoning for the whole dish other than the salt in the cheese/butter, so don't be shy here.

Combine the macaroni, mushroom sauce, tuna, milk and butter in the pot used to boil the noodles.  Stir in half of the cheddar cheese, and check seasoning one last time.  You can do this over low heat to help it come together if your noodles have cooled off a bit.  Pile the mixture into a 1½ Qt casserole dish (or an 8×8″ pan).   Sprinkle the remaining cheddar cheese on top.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the cheese on top is melted and just starting to brown, and the casserole is bubbly.  

The leftovers are great the next day too. ☺

Saturday, October 1, 2011

18 hour Crock pot Chicken Soup

We're starting to get into true Fall weather here in the Pacific Northwest.  That also means cold season.  It's soup weather all over and my kids love soups thankfully.  I bookmarked this recipe from nourished kitchen and did not make all that many changes to it.  Mostly I just used what was on hand and available.  For instance, the grocery store was running a special on regular whole chickens so they did not have any free range or organic on hand.  We actually cannot use the regular chickens because the residue of their feed in the meat (purely corn and soy and guaranteed GMO) can actually cause a stacked allergy reaction in my daughter.  So I was left with the option of packages of organic drumsticks and thighs.  That worked perfectly as well as being cheaper.  To be honest, maybe better; I have made plain whole chickens in the crock pot for significantly less time and still found that the breast meat tended to get a touch overdone.  This time I got perfectly done meat and a broth that actually gelled!  Hooray!  Talk about a nourishing soup.  And I am totally sold on the leeks in the soup from now on, I LOVED what it added in flavor.  We all enjoyed this soup the first night and my four year old and I enjoyed the leftovers for the next two days.  It reheats beautifully.  (I just have a 3Qt slow cooker, so it was quite full on this recipe, a larger one would be easier, but I did slightly scale down to fit.)  Start this before bed and it will be ready to finish up in the morning and simmer all day for dinner.  And remember to wash your leeks well to avoid grit.  ☺

Slow Cooker Chicken Soup
Makes about 1 gallon soup (if your cooker will hold that much)

1 whole chicken (3-4 lbs) or one package each drumsticks and thighs
sea salt
fresh ground pepper
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced thin (I used one large leek)
2 bay leaves
1 onion, peeled and chopped
6 carrots, scraped and sliced into rounds ¼" thick
6 celery ribs, sliced ¼" thick
1 lb potatoes, peeled and chopped (I used 3 or 4 small organic russets)
¼ cup fresh minced parsley (I used the equivalent of freeze dried)
extra seasoning like lemon pepper and/or Tabasco to taste

Rinse chicken or chicken parts and place in slow cooker, seasoning well with sea salt and pepper all over or between layers.  Add leeks and bay leaves to pot and cover all with water.  Cook on low heat for about 12 hours.  Depending on who will be eating the soup, at this point you may want to remove the chicken and pick out the meat.  Since I have little kids, this is what I did.  (I had so much meat, I decided to save half for another batch of soup.)  You can save the skin and bones for a separate batch of stock if desired.  Now add the chopped onion, carrots, celery and potatoes to the pot, top up with water if needed and continue cooking on low for an additional six to eight hours.  Adjust seasoning and stir in parsley before serving.  I love a few dashes of tabasco in my soups because the vinegar brightens up the flavors.  I like lemon pepper for the same reason.  Lemon brightens flavors.  Season to your own taste.  This was a great soup!

And just look at that beautiful gel, I can't even get my stock to do that!