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Category Archives: Baked

Amish “Friendship” Bread

My apologies in advance to Keisha, who cared so very much for her starter that she was compelled to share it with someone she thought would take good care. I also apologize to any Amish or Amish-friendly readers. I don’t hate. And I cleaned up my language a bit for this post, although I think it reads much better with the original expletives.

I have been doing my share of cooking and baking over the holidays. It was actually a breath of fresh air to have some time off that could be spent in the kitchen once again. And then along came the starter for Amish Friendship bread. After 10 days of care which in fact produced two (delicious) loaves to share at the office, I was compelled to re-write the recipe. If you’ve ever received a starter from a, shall we call them “friend”, then you will likely appreciate my re-write.

Amish “Friendship” Bread

You’ve just been given a starter to make Amish Friendship Bread.

The polite thing to do would be to look your “gift-giver” in the eye and say, “why thank you so much.” Fight the urge to say things like, “what the !@#& is Amish Bread” or, “this sh#t looks gross.” There will be plenty time for swearing later.

You’ll notice there are dates on your plastic Ziplock bag. These are written there for your convenience, in the rare instance that you really don’t know what the hell you’re doing or how to count.

The original directions tell you DO NOT use any type of metal spoon or bowl for mixing. Only use a wooden spoon hand-carved by Abraham, the little Amish boy you purchased the spoon from at the Viroqua farmer’s market. Okay, it didn’t say that, just don’t freakin use any metal!

The original directions also tell you DO NOT refrigerate. Apparently your starter hates winter as much as you do. Also, if any air gets in the bag, let it out. Seriously, open up the bag, squish out the air and zip the bag back up again, leaving that lifeless son-of-a-bitch starter with nothing to breathe.

So you wonder why you – should you be a childless person by choice – have been given something that requires daily attention. Yes, that is the compelling question – WHY MEEEEEEE?

It is normal for the batter to rise, bubble and ferment. Consider this cheap entertainment.

So here is what you need to do:

Day 1: Nothing. Enjoy this day, for it is the last day of freedom you will ever experience.

Day 2: Mush the bag. That’s right, get in there and give it a good massage. Ignore the fact that it feels like a bag of snot. Squish it!

Day 3: Mush the bag. Let out any air any time you mush the bag. Repeat after me, “mush the bag.”

Day 4: Mush the bag. Seriously? If you’re like me and forgot to mush the bag on day 2 or 3, your bag is just begging to be mushed.

Day 5: Mush the bag. What the @#$&? I hate you Amish starter-giver!

Day 6: Add to the bag – 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of sugar, and 1 cup of milk. Remember what you learned on the day you first got this recipe – don’t use any metal stupid! To mix, simply…wait for it… mush the bag.

Day 7: Mush the bag.

Day 8: Mush the bag and curse your pitiful life.

Day 9: Mush the bag and seek therapy.

Day 10: Oh I know you’ve waited for day 10 to arrive. This is where it gets really exciting.

  1. Pour the starter into a large NON METAL bowl. Didn’t you learn anything?
  2. Feed the starter by adding 1.5 cups of flour, 1.5 cups of sugar, and 1.5 cups of milk. Think about all the flour, sugar, and milk you’ve just wasted on some unsuspecting suckers you’re going to give this to.
  3. Mix this up – mind you, without using metal. Forget that, there are lumps developing everywhere in this crap. Okay, calm down and follow the rules, DO NOT use metal when mixing.
  4. Measure out 4 separate batters of 1 cup each to give to your friends, and keep the cup that remains to make your friendship bread. Remember to date the bags just like they were dated when you received this precious gift of love.

I read the original recipe and quite honestly, stopped dead in my tracks at the step where I was to add 1 large box of instant vanilla pudding mix. What, the Amish have a secret underground ring of instant pudding smuggling just to make this stuff? I thought they were the original made from scratchers? Seriously, vanilla pudding as an ingredient didn’t sound good to me at all. So I found this simple recipe on the internet which quite honestly gave me hope that this whole ordeal would soon be over with.

1 cup starter

2/3 cup oil

3 eggs

2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon

2 teaspoons vanilla

There, that’s more like it. Now turn the oven on to 350° and grease 2 bread pans. Time to get creative. Mix up the above ingredients (I took the liberty of using a metal  whisk, and holy hell did that feel great). Now add whatever the @#$% you want to this batter. The recipe I found suggested nuts, dried fruit, chocolate chips, etc. I added chocolate chips to one, topped with crushed walnuts. For the second bread I coated the bottom of the bread pan with brown sugar and chopped walnuts before pouring in the batter.

Divide into the two bread pans and bake for 40-45 minutes. If you like the results, thank me later. If you don’t, well too bad suck-a cuz I got you to jump through all these Amish hoops for nothing.

BTW – you do need a starter to make this – but where does the starter come from?

Six Months Later…

Although it seems like only yesterday it’s actually been six months since I ended my Year of Inconvenience. I continue to have people stop and ask me from time-to-time, how the “cooking from scratch” is going, or if I’ve continued with any of the routines I had grown accustomed to during that one very long year of my life. Sometimes I’m asked those questions while I’m shopping – my cart brimming with canned goods, chips, deli salads, frozen pizza, and boxed cereal. I’ve since learned to hide all of those items under the bulk rolled oats, flour, and fresh produce (just in case).

I guess the bright side is that some of the things I learned in that year have really stuck with me. While sitting down to write this post my house is bathed in the sweet aroma of maple syrup and toasted pecans, as a batch of fresh made granola bakes away while the granola bars I made earlier still cool down next to the stovetop. Those are two of the items I continue to make from scratch whenever needed, even though they are just as easy to buy as all of the other items that line our pantry shelves.

Speaking of the pantry, just one look and you can see how things have changed over the past six months compared to eighteen months ago. Canned beans and mushrooms balance nicely beside the jars of nuts, dried beans, and flour. Tucked safely behind the toaster is my “snack corner” – a plethora of salty choices I had to previously do without – and instead make a batch of popcorn whenever the munchie craving struck me. There really isn’t much room in the pantry for all of the jars of bulk foods, additional cookbooks I collected that year, and the newly added canned goods. But that’s the way it is now, the blending of two distinct ways of getting food on the table, either slowly from scratch or semi-conveniently.

While the pantry isn’t as organized as it was last year neither am I. Two necessary evils that cooking from scratch really forces one into are organization and planning.  In fact without the meal planning it’s just too easy to look at your significant other after a long day of work and say, “I’m so tired, let’s just pick up a frozen pizza.” Ah pizza, the dish I swore I would never return to in it’s frozen form. We’ve probably made a ratio of 2:1 frozen to fresh pizzas over the past six months. Without the planning and preparation of sauce in advance, let alone planning enough prep time for the dough to rise, that box of Connie’s Pizza is just too tempting of a backup plan. And so I give in.

The other thing I swore, I mean seriously promised to continue to make from scratch every week was bread. The first time we ran out of bread (which was probably in late May when the farmers markets opened up) I gave myself permission to buy a loaf from the market, since the bakery they were selling was obviously made them from scratch that morning. Lightening didn’t strike me as I handed over my money in exchange for that crusty loaf of multi-grain goodness, nobody judged me – I mean really – it was just too easy to get away with. We did that for several weeks at the market and by July the summer heat and my social calendar gave me even more reasons to make excuses to not bake bread. When the markets closed in late September I knew I either had to start baking bread again or make up a new excuse to buy it. Needless to say it’s November now and my bread pans remain as cold as my convenience-oriented heart.

I have had some other successes in sticking with the from-scratch routine, such as back in September when my Mom delivered a 5-gallon bucket filled with tomatoes from my brother’s garden. We cooked that down all day into some delicious sauce while the same day a neighborhood friend also brought over about 2 pounds of cherry tomatoes just gleaned from the remaining plants in her garden. Those sweet little things got roasted with garlic, olive oil, some fresh oregano and rosemary, and we packed them in small batches to freeze for use on our fresh pizza. The warm autumn weather in Wisconsin this year just kept on producing more and more tomatoes, and we processed one additional batch we received from a farmer-friend. Where was this abundance of free tomatoes when I really needed them back in August of 2010?

Well life does indeed go on and I’m recommitting to return to that path of real food love whenever possible. In fact I still have my list of things I never did try making during that year (nor have I ever made before) that still warrant discovery – like home brewed beer, layer cake, vinegar, mayonnaise…

Recipe Request – Chocolate Graham Crackers

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It’s cold and rainy and just plain dreary outside today here in Milwaukee. So much for getting outside and spending some quality time in our gardens. To make the best of the day I think I need to get the house smelling of chocolate and comfort. These chocolate graham crackers were one of the best recipes I (well actually Lisa) discovered over the past year. The most difficult part of the recipe is waiting for them to cool down to a nice soft crunch before devouring the entire plate!

Chocolate Graham Crackers

½ cup all purpose flour

¾ cup whole wheat flour

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup dutch-process cocoa

1 ¼ cups powdered sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons cold milk

Preheat the oven to 325°and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.

Whisk together the flours, salt, cocoa, sugar, and baking powder in a mixing bowl. Using a pastry blender or your fingertips, cut the butter into the flour mixture until evenly crumbly. In a separate bowl, combine the honey and milk, stirring until the honey dissolves. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and toss lightly with a fork until the dough comes together. Add a little more milk, ½ teaspoon at a time if necessary, to make the dough pliable but not sticky.

Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and fold it over gently until smooth. Divide the dough in half, keeping the other half covered with plastic.

Put your half of dough onto the parchment paper or Silpat, and roll it into a rectangle about 10 x 14 inches. The dough will be about 1/16 of an inch thick (pretty darn thin). Trim the edges and prick the dough evenly with a fork. Repeat with the remaining half of dough on the other piece of parchment. Place the parchment/dough on a baking sheet, and bake for 15 minutes or until they begin to brown. Immediately cut them into rectangles with a pizza wheel or knife. Transfer on a rack to cool. They should crisp up as they cool down.

Weeks 48 & 49 – From Blur To Bliss

At this point week 48 is a blur. When you’re in a job where you can’t pass your work on to anyone else, preparing to take a vacation means you will really need it when the week is over. And so we move on to week 49.

From my experience a vacation in the southwest, specifically the mountains of New Mexico, is a total sensory overload. From the heat and flavor of New Mexican red chilies to the sweet smoky of the green, the clear blue sky in the daytime to the star-studded sky of the evening, the unmistakable aroma of the piñon fires to the short-term effects of the altitude – my senses were definitely on overload.

We began our adventure in Santa Fe at the local farmer’s market, with the purchase of red chili powder, fresh goat cheese with green chili, German butter potatoes, farm fresh eggs, a giant bunch of rainbow chard and multi-grain bread. I was having a blast. My last visit to a farmer’s market was this past summer when my biggest concern was how many fresh tomatoes could I buy in order to get me through the winter. But this time it was about the food and more importantly the food already made by others. My vacation rules allow for the convenience food already prepared by someone other than myself, so I pretty much had to contain myself from purchasing every roll, cookie or bread in sight. The market in Santa Fe was one of the better ones I’ve been to – very well organized, a great variety of options, and to carry on with my theme – total sensory overload (which believe me was a really good thing).

This vacation was yet another art retreat unlike any other I’ve taken or written about. The ten of us, all women (mostly retired) stayed in the Taos home of a local artist whose colorful artwork filled the walls of most every room, and whose sense of style created an atmosphere of curiosity and wonder. It was the perfect setting for creativity, in both art and food and as one of the designated cooks for the week I saw the opportunity to let my food love shine using the foods I purchased from the market. Leading with the two pounds of granola I baked before the trip (which our instructor joyfully claimed as her prize), I decided I would bake us some bread.

From my year’s experience so far I’ve learned enough about baking to know that things like heat, humidity, or even altitude can have a serious impact on the results. With iPad in hand, Lisa researched any potential precautions I should take in baking bread in the thin and dry air at 7,000 feet. Breads rise quickly at high altitude and the dough needs to be adjusted for moisture. Yes indeed, my English muffin bread that typically takes sixty minutes to rise took only 30 minutes to get to a stage of puffiness that kinda’ scared me a bit. The dough was beautiful and it filled the loaf pan looking like a professional had their hand at forming it. Ha – was I going to impress everyone with this bread! My next challenge was adjusting the baking time, not only for the difference in altitude but because I was using a convection oven. Okay, that meant I should lower the heat by twenty-five degrees and shorten the amount of baking time. Piece of cake… er bread. If I thought this bread looked beautiful before it went into the oven it looked even more amazing coming out of the oven. I couldn’t figure out what was the big deal about altitude adjustment? I was totally for this high altitude baking.

Well as you may have guessed that feeling of amazement and success of was pretty short-lived. The next morning I put on the pots of coffee and started to slice into my perfect loaf, setting up my cinnamon raisin “toast bar” for breakfast. The first slice was beautiful although not quite the usual texture. The second slice was equally as enticing to the on-lookers now forming over my shoulder and I couldn’t have been more proud of the treat I was getting ready for them. Onto the third slice, and the fourth which started to be a bit more crumbly with a slight hole in the middle. Well take a look at the photo because it wasn’t just a slight hole that had formed, it was a giant cavern right through the center of the bread. Needless to say we got a laugh out of it and toasted each slice in several pieces. Ah, my little lesson on baking in high altitude.

One meal that did go well was one I made using the fresh rainbow chard and potatoes from the farmer’s market. Fortunately for me I had convenience foods on hand, my first encounter with canned beans and a carton of chicken broth since last April. I served the beans and chard directly over the steamed German butter potatoes for a quick, simple, and delicious meal.

And what would vacation be without souvenirs? Many of mine, were of course, food related from sun-dried red chilies to smoky chitpotles. I plan on recreating the flavors of New Mexico at home, but I might wait until using canned beans are ‘legal’ after the year is through!

 

Rainbow Chard With White Beans

1 large bunch (about one pound) red chard or rainbow chard, rinsed well

½ cup shallots, sliced

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon olive oil

¼ cup white wine

¼ to ½ cup chicken broth (or vegetable broth)

1 can (15 ounces) white beans, great northern, navy, or cannelinni (drained)

Salt and pepper to taste

Remove a good portion of the stems from the chard, reserving as much as you might enjoy in the dish. (The reason you’re removing them is that they cook slower than the leafy green part, so they need to be cooked separately.)

Once the stems are removed, roughly chop the leafy green portion of the chard and set aside. Now dice up some of the stems, along with the shallots and garlic.

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan, and add the shallots and diced chard stems. Sauté the mixture until the shallots begin to caramelize, about 8-10 minutes. The chard stems should begin to soften at this point. Add the minced garlic and stir for about one minute to release the flavor.

Add the white wine to the pan to deglaze it of any browning from the vegetables, and slowly add your chard greens allowing each addition to cook down a bit before adding more greens to the pan. Cook the greens stirring frequently for about 10 minutes.

Now add the white beans to the mixture, along with the chicken or vegetable stock. Cover the pan and let simmer on low heat for another 10 minutes, allowing a good portion of the liquid to absorb into the dish. Season with salt and pepper.

This can be served as either a main dish or a side dish. Serves 4.

 

Week 46 – An Einstein I’m Not!

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What does a middle-aged German girl like me know about bagels? Well I know they were a childhood favorite of mine growing up in the 1960’s in a community with one of the first bagel shops in the area. Bagels and lox were a treat in our house and I learned to appreciate both the appropriate texture and flavor at a very young age. We didn’t have the Brugger’s or Einstein’s shops known today – no these shops were small local bakeries that perhaps learned the craft of bagel baking in New York or Chicago – and opened up in my neighborhood I’m guessing on the demand from the Jewish community.

What do I know about bagels today? Well first of all I haven’t eaten a bagel in more than 46 weeks. Prior to my voyage into the from scratch food routine, I had avoided bagels for a couple of years because of the calorie content – a whopping 72 calories per ounce – or about 364 calories for an average size bagel. Spread on the cream cheese and we’re talking 1/3 of the calories I might consume in an entire day. But I got a craving for bagels this week and naturally if I wanted them, I would have to make them myself.

Research led me to the particular recipe I’ve included in this post – not too technical for my abilities – but descriptive of what I remembered about the texture and flavor of a really authentic bagel. A bagel by definition is known as dense, chewy and rather doughy with a nicely browned and crispy crust. That’s the bagel I was in search of!

Naturally I wanted some kind of cheese spread to go along with my bagel. Since I didn’t have the necessary mesophilic starter for cream cheese, and since I was hoping to do something low-fat, I decided to use this recipe that I’ve had my eye on since getting my cheese making book for Christmas. It’s super simple to make, and since you add your own salt and/or herbs, it can take on whatever flavor profile you love. I was happy to see Meyer lemons were in season, as they tend to be a bit sweeter than regular lemons (they are a cross between a lemon and either a mandarin or common orange).

While these two recipes took up a big part of my Sunday time (ie: I prepared no other food for the week), they were really worth the effort. I brought the majority of them into work today at the delight of my co-workers, or at least that’s what they tell me. Enjoy!

 

Meyer Lemon Cheese

½ gallon milk (I used 2%, you need a little milk fat)

¼ cup lemon juice (I used Meyer Lemons)

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil or other herbs

 

Heat the milk on the stove in a large pot, stirring frequently until it reaches 185-195°. Remove from the head, add the lemon juice to the milk, and stir. Cover the pot immediately and let rest for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes check you curds and whey. The whey should be clear and not milky. If it’s milky, add a little bit more lemon juice to the pot and wait a few minutes more.

Pour the curds into a colander lined with cheesecloth. I save the whey from both the curds dripping through the cheesecloth as well as from the rest of the cheese-making process. (see week 41)

Tie the corners of the cheesecloth and hang the curds over a bowl to drain for about an hour. Remove the curds from the bag and add the salt and herbs. My cheese was a bit dry, so I just added back some of the whey I had saved to make it creamier.

Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for 1-2 weeks, if it lasts that long.

 

Bagels (from the book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day, by Hertzberg and Francois)

For The Dough

3 cups lukewarm water (100°F)

1 ½ tablespoons active dry yeast (2 packages)

1 ½ tablespoons Kosher salt

1 ½ tablespoons sugar

6 ¼ cups bread flour

Extra flour for dusting

Sesame seeds and/or poppy seeds

For The Boiling Pot

8 quarts water

¼ cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

This dough mixes best using a 14-cup capacity food processor with dough attachment, or a heavy-duty stand mixer with a dough hook. Mix the yeast, salt, and sugar with the water in the bowl of your mixer or food processor. Add the flour to form what will become a very sticky dough. If you don’t have a machine to use, keep your hands wet to incorporate all of the flour.

Cover the dough and allow it to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses (or flattens on the top), approximately 2 hours. You can use the dough immediately, but it may work better refrigerated for a few hours. I also read in Mark Bittman’s book, that refrigerating or resting the dough for several hours will also contribute to a more developed flavor.

Twenty minutes before baking time, preheat your oven to 450°F, with a baking stone (preferably) in the middle rack and an empty broiler tray or cast iron pan below. You will use the second pan to create steam. If you don’t have a baking stone, a lightly oiled baking sheet should work.

Generously dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 3-ounce piece of dough about the size of a small peach. Dust the piece with more flour (on your counter top as well) and shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter turn as you go. (Tuck and spin, tuck and spin. You’re creating elasticity in the dough.) Set the dough ball on a floured surface and keep working the rest of the dough. Cover the balls loosely with a towel that has been lightly floured (you’ll use this towel again in a bit). Let the balls rest for 20 minutes.

Start you water boiling (don’t forget to add the sugar and baking soda once it begins to boil).

Next, punch your thumb through the dough ball to form the hole. Hold the dough in your hands and ease the hole open with your fingers as you rotate the dough in a circle. Your dough should look like a fat bicycle tire. The hole will get smaller as the dough rests, so don’t worry that it’s too big.

Drop the bagels into the simmering water one at a time, making sure they are not crowding one another (3-4 at a time). Let them simmer for 2 minutes, then turn them over to cook for one more minute. (I was so busy dropping bagels into the water and shaping the others that I forgot to take pictures. Whoops!)

Remove them from the water with a slotted spoon and place them on a clean kitchen towel (the one you used to cover them) that is lightly floured. This will help absorb some of the excess water and keep them from sticking.

Place the bagels on a well-floured peel if you’re using a baking stone, or on a lightly greased baking sheet if you’re not using the stone. Sprinkle with poppy seeds and/or sesame seeds. Yes they looked funny, I was worried.

Slide the bagels directly onto the hot stone or baking sheet onto the middle oven rack. Throw 2 ice cubes into the broiler pan or cast iron pan and quickly close the door to keep the steam inside. Bake for about 20 minutes until brown and firm. Repeat process with the rest of the batches.

Oh and if you find my description or process to not be helpful, take a look at a post by the authors of the recipe.

 

A Year Of Inconvenience In The News

Photo by Kristyna Wentz-Graff Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Today is the day our local paper runs the story on my blog. Little did I realize it would be almost 3 pages of story, along with two online videos. Pretty cool indeed! I hope you enjoy it, I know my Mom and Dad will!

Week 44 – T-minus 8 Weeks And Counting

My year of inconvenience is slowly but steadily coming to an end. I mention slowly because this past week was particularly slow going. Work was packed with more meetings than usual, and my free time was spent either shoveling snow or working on a painting/remodel project at home. So meals this week were rather haphazard at best. Fortunately I had my reserve of frozen meals to get us through most of the week. Here’s a sample of what I’m talking about.

Lisa – “What’s for dinner?

Me – “I dunno, how about this container marked ‘chicken verde’ does that sound good?”

Lisa – “Sure I’d love to have Mexican food tonight.”

Me – “uhm… this looks like chicken in here but I don’t see any ‘verde’ to speak of. I think it is Indian flavored chicken something that we made awhile ago.”

Lisa – “I don’t care as long as I don’t have to cook it.”

And so it went. We didn’t starve nor did we eat particularly well. I’d say I actually had two high points in the week, which to me are kind of like the yin and yang of food cravings.

The Yin: Sitting in meetings all week in our office conference room, I happened to chose the side of the table directly across from a group of photos we had up to assist with ideas for a store remodel. One picture in particular, demonstrating “unique and abundant” was a display case of large, beautifully crafted pretzels from my trip to Switzerland in 2009. Wow, did I crave pretzels all week long! So, high point number one which met my salty food craving, was to visit the Old German Beer Hall after work on Friday with friends…where they have delicious Hofbrau beer AND delicious GIANT soft pretzels. While I know I can make these myself and in fact making pretzels is great fun, I admit it was even more fun to have someone else make it for me.

The Yang: This can best be described as an unreasonable but growing desire for cinnamon rolls. For those who know me know that I really don’t eat cinnamon rolls as I generally prefer the salty to the sweet. But I just couldn’t shake this craving no matter how hard I tried. And for the sake of trying something new each week for the rest of my year, I’ve never before tried making cinnamon rolls. The problem I have with the idea of making them from scratch is the time vs. eating factor. Using yeast (as one should) it takes at least 3 hours from start to finish, which means if I want one fresh in the morning with my coffee I’m getting up at 5am on a weekend. Forget that! Then I stumbled across this recipe that PROMISED to be just as good as the yeast version without the yeast and without the wait. I’m sorry I don’t remember where the recipe is from but trust me, it satisfied the craving particularly well.

No Yeast, No Kidding Cinnamon Rolls

For the dough:

2 ¾ cup white flour (plus extra for dusting the counter)

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 ¼ teaspoon baking power

½ teaspoon baking soda

¾ teaspoon salt

1 ¼ cup buttermilk

6 tablespoons melted butter

 

For the filling:

2 tablespoons melted butter

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

 

For the glaze:

2 tablespoons water

¾ to 1 cup powdered sugar

 

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Don’t wait like I did, because this recipe comes together very quickly.

Mix together the dry ingredients of the filling (the sugar and cinnamon) in a small bowl so you have it ready when you need it.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the dry ingredients for the dough (the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt). Add the butter and buttermilk and mix gently. At this point the dough will come together very sticky, but don’t worry. Spoon it on top of a heavily floured counter and sprinkle a bit more flour on top so you can mix it.

Flour your hands as well and gently knead the dough, adding more flour if necessary, kneading until the dough is both manageable and fairly smooth.

With a rolling pin, roll out the dough into a rectangle approximately ½ inch thick. The rectangle I rolled was about 14 inches in length.

Spread the melted butter over the dough and sprinkle with the cinnamon and sugar mixture. There may seem like a lot but use it all.

Roll the dough lengthwise, somewhat tightly, and cut the dough into rolls that are about 2 inches thick.

Place the rolls into a lightly greased pan (I used an 8”x8” pan). I started with one roll in the center and built the others around it. They will puff up when they bake and fill in the empty space in the pan.

Bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until the edges have turned a golden brown.

While the buns are baking, mix together your glaze and pour onto the rolls while they are still warm.

Yum – yes yum. While these are a bit more like biscuits than true cinnamon rolls, I was not at all disappointed and hope you aren’t either.

 

Week 41 – I’m Whey Ahead Of The Game

A lot happened during week 41 that I’m just not at liberty to talk about – seriously. Let’s just say that I had a lot of food prep to take care of this week in advance of “someone” coming over to our house to photograph said food. Naturally it wasn’t just the food prep that took some time but also the cleaning up of the house – kitchen and pantry (I cleaned and reorganized it all from floor to ceiling) – noticing dust and crumb collection I somehow had blissfully ignored until then. Now if you think you know what is going on, you obviously read my previous post when I felt I was at liberty to talk about all this activity.

The food preparation included setting up a meal of slow cooked pork carnitas served on homemade corn tortillas and topped with fresh made pico de gallo, Queso Blanco cheese I also made from scratch, and sour cream which I chose instead to use strained yogurt (yes, I made that too). Other food also in line for a snapshot or two was flaxseed crackers, chocolate graham crackers, granola, and cinnamon raisin English muffin bread. Besides the still photos, there were also two videos involved where I needed to demonstrate how easy and fun it is to make the Queso Blanco cheese and tortillas. Other than the cat walking though the room and meowing during the cheese demo and me messing up the first tortilla I pressed, things went okay.

It is kind of amazing to me that I’m actually enjoying a number of the things I now make on a regular basis, which certainly beats the heck out of me resenting it all. That said, I still don’t love cooking beans, in fact I really dislike cooking beans. Today I cursed the pots of beans that were cooking on the stove as I either had the heat up too high where they kept cooking over the top, or I turned it down too low and they stopped simmering completely. Turned out I overcooked both of them (and yes, the pots I used were too small). So Lisa in all of her brilliance suggested I turn the mess into refried beans rather than make the big pot of chili I had intended. Bless her little culinary heart – that was a great idea and saved me from total bean resentment.

I also discovered something magical this past week somewhere in between cheese making and bread baking. I happened to read something, somewhere, about a woman who was a cheese maker and didn’t like wasting any of the byproducts (such as the whey), so she used it in place of milk when she baked bread. I saved a quart of the whey from the first batch of cheese I made for the photo shoot, and gave it a shot in making my English muffin bread. The results were, well magical. The bread was lighter, the air pockets in the bread were numerous and I swear this bread tasted more and more like its English muffin counterpart than any previous attempts.

So here is my recipe for the bread, which you can make as regular English muffin (plain) or as cinnamon raisin.

 

 

 

 

English Muffin Bread

1 ¼ cups milk (or whey liquid)

½ cup whole-wheat flour

1 ½ – 2 cups unbleached white flour

2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon baking soda

½ tablespoon sugar for regular bread or 2 tablespoons for cinnamon raisin

2 teaspoons cinnamon (for cinnamon raisin)

¾  cup raisins (obviously for the cinnamon raisin only)

Heat the milk or whey until it reaches 125°F

Next, lightly oil an 8 x 4 inch loaf pan and sprinkle the bottom with cornmeal or corn grits

In a large bowl combine together ½ cup of whole-wheat flour and 1 cup of the white flour (reserving the other cup of white for later). Add the yeast, sugar, salt, soda (and cinnamon if making cinnamon raisin bread). Stir in the milk or whey and beat well with a whisk.

Next add the raisins if you’re making cinnamon raisin bread, and slowly add the other ½ to 1 cup of white flour. The batter should be stiff and sticky, but not something you can pour. If it seems too wet, add just a bit more flour. Depending on the conditions, I use a little more than ½ a cup and not quite the full cup left.

Place batter into prepared pan, spreading it out evenly. Cover and let rise in a warm place until the dough doubles, about 1 hour 15 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 400°F. Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Remove from pan immediately ad cool on a cooling rack.

This bread is best served toasted, just like English muffins are best served toasted. Resist the temptation to eat a slice warm from the oven and instead let it cool and then toast one up with a generous slathering of butter.

Week 38 – An Inconvenient Pantry (Part 1)

Being the kind of person who likes to drive around the neighborhood at night because I’m curious to see the inside of other people’s houses, I stumbled upon a website a little while ago that takes a peek into other people’s pantries. The Perfect Pantry author Lydia Walshin has been food blogging since 2006, and her website is a great place to dig in to find a great recipe or to peek into someone else’s pantry. Some of them are awesome while others are honestly quite horrifying.


Lydia let her readers peek into my pantry this week which inspired me to write about how my “well-stocked for inconvenience” pantry has been helping me through this one-year challenge. Before we peek further, I also want to give a shout out to Outpost’s Pantry Raid girls, Diana and Carrie, who not only are darling and funny but were also an inspiration to me to take on this challenge. Don’t miss their blog on Outpost’s website – it’s not only fun but the recipes are truly delicious and inspired.

Now on to my pantry. Part One of my inconvenient pantry focuses on the dry good essentials – items I just can’t do without, and in a pinch, will help me pull together a either a baked good meal. These ingredients are the backbones of the things I used to buy ready-made, such as bread, crackers, chips, breadcrumbs, tortillas, pita bread, polenta, rice pilaf, granola, pizza crust, granola bars, and all beans that are canned.

I like to store them in vintage jars, my favorites being vintage herring jars, which are appealing for their size as well as the lid graphics. Of course I like to collect vintage anything and finally found something with a purpose. I’m actually about three steps shy of hoarder, so watch for me soon on your favorite Discovery channel.

Here is a chart of the pantry essentials and why you want to keep them in stock:

Item Why I keep it stocked
Rolled Oats Granola, granola bars, and the occasional cookie
Quick Cooking Oats Instant oatmeal in the microwave, ingredient in multi-grain bread, ingredient in meatloaf if I don’t have breadcrumbs made. Convenience food? Don’t judge.
Corn Grits Polenta, ingredient in multi-grain bread, bottom coating for a variety of breads and pizza crust
Masa Harina Corn tortillas, corn chips, also thickening agent in some Mexican stews
White and Whole Wheat Flour Wow, need I explain? Breads, pizza crust, popovers, muffins, thickening agent (roux), cakes, cookies, crackers (it’s no wonder I’ve gained 5 pounds)
Instant Yeast I get a good rise out of this!
Semolina Flour Pasta!
Flax Seeds and Flax Meal Breads, crackers, granola bars, banana bread
Sesame Seeds Bread topping, crackers, Asian cooking
Quinoa, Couscous, Rice Salads and side dishes galore!
Beans & Lentils I admit I hate cooking beans and don’t do it all that often. Red lentils have come in handy for making dal since it’s quick to cook.
Nuts & Seeds Are you old enough to remember Euell Gibbons? Ever eat a pine tree? Okay – Granola, granola bars, breads it is.
And Finally, Chocolate Chips Seriously! Granola bars, pancakes, banana bread, and a nice little snack every now and then.

My New Year’s resolution (or acclaim as I’d put it) was to make the best of my final fourteen weeks and try to make something new each week. This past week I tried to make mozzarella cheese and tortilla chips. The operative word here really is “tried.”

The cheese came out “okay” mostly because I didn’t do enough research ahead of time, like watch cheese-making videos on the web. Little did I realize the curds have to be as hot as the sun before you handle them and then stretch them into what should resemble cheese. So I overworked them a bit at first and lost a bit of the milk fat. We did enjoy them on what I was hoping would be the perfect pizza on New Year’s eve – homemade crust, sauce made from scratch from the tomatoes I canned, and homemade cheese. It just wasn’t meant to be perfect I guess, as I overworked the crust as well as the cheese, but I was pretty proud of taking inconvenient to the extreme.

The tortilla chips, well I’m going to save that story for another post when I get them right.

Watch for Part Two of my pantry posts next week, which will be appropriately titled “condiment whore.”

Week 36 – Homemade For The Holidays

I have to admit this past week was a tough one. Making the time to cook from scratch in between shopping for gifts, wrapping presents, cleaning the house, shoveling snow, baking my own gifts for people and oh yeah – working – made for some pretty boring meals all week (for me that’s meat, vegetable, starch). If any time of year was ripe for reliance on convenience foods, I’m declaring that it’s the week before Christmas. Thankfully the holiday landed on the weekend so I had the time to plan out a Christmas dinner from scratch that would really bedazzle my guests with the culinary skills I’ve picked up so far.

My family has a holiday tradition of a “themed” Christmas gathering. It started years ago when my niece wanted us all to wear our pajamas on Christmas with the family. From there the themes began and transitioned into a toga Christmas (flannel holiday sheets), vintage aprons, Hawaiian shirts, space-themed outfits, to last year’s now infamous lumberjack Christmas. Not to be outdone by any themes of our past, the chosen theme for 2010 was ugly sweater. Now a sweater that’s “ugly” walks a fine line from those that are perhaps fashionable to wear for some, so you don’t want to cross that line and say “I’m wearing one ugly sweater”, to a family member who has gifts for you and would actually wear your sweater to a normal holiday gathering. And while there is never any contest between my family members when it comes to dressing the theme, this year when seeing my Dad in his ugly holiday sweater, my sister simply proclaimed “you win.”

Whenever I describe to someone which types of foods I have to make from scratch or do without, the tendency among many is to “gift” those foods to me. Now I’m not complaining, in fact the gifts of food this year in particular were generous and happily received (voice inside my head – yeah, get to the gym, Pam). There were the practical gifts (ie: you’re gonna’ need these to keep up with all your cooking), which I totally love, that came in the form of cookbooks, food magazines, and a set of lovingly stitched dish towels which my Mom proclaimed are not to be used but are only for show. Lisa and I also got matching coffee mugs handmade by our artist friend Annie, depicting a sea lion from our Maine vacation this past summer. And there were the food gifts, most of which appeared in the form of snack foods in my Christmas stocking on Friday morning, but also in the form of home made cookies, seasoned pretzels, home-seasoned Chex mix, and a bag of caramel “poofs” my sister makes that we all refer to as “crack.” The most clever gift of food, considering my current circumstances of eating out only when invited and only at local restaurants, was a tin of coasters from City Tins – each redeemable at a local restaurant for $10 off a minimum dining purchase of $25 or more. Now is the tin itself the invitation to dine out?

Okay, so here’s the deal with Christmas dinner. I planned to cook the “everything” from scratch meal consisting of lasagna, Italian bread, and salad with balsamic dressing. Simple enough. That meant I would need to make the marinara sauce from the tomatoes I froze this summer, the béchamel sauce, and fresh pasta for the lasagna, as well as bake my bread and throw together a salad dressing. Ultimately I had planned on making my own mozzarella cheese for the lasagna as well, but never having made cheese before this, I chickened out on that one pretty early on. As it was the bread was a two-day process as I needed to start the biga (to ferment) on Christmas eve, and still hoped to have enough time Christmas day for the early morning tradition of opening gifts before spending the rest of the day in the kitchen.

In retrospect I can laugh now, as our kitchen felt a bit like kitchen stadium on Iron Chef America – a chaotic disarray of ingredients and pots and pans thrown about, steam billowing from the sink from the pasta water, the two of us doing this kind of dance around each other while the smoke alarm screeches from the leftover burnt sweet potato on the bottom of the oven – me rushing to throw ice cubes into the hot pan to create the necessary steam that will give my bread a good crust. I was putting the two loaves of bread into the oven right as our guests arrived, and thankfully yes thankfully, I received one last food gift from Lisa that morning – a box of lasagna noodles.

The bread turned out fabulously, I mean it was really wonderful, the lasagna delicious but not quite saucy enough, and the salad was a fine accompaniment to the meal. I’m happy to share the recipes with you but I recommend twice the amount of marinara for the lasagna, to make sure it oozes over the top of the pan as it cooks.

Here is a comparison of how I used to make the marinara sauce for lasagna, and how the process changed using a truly from-scratch version with a recipe from Giada De Laurentis.

The Marinara Sauce

Original Recipe (from my mom) From Scratch by Giada
2 cloves garlic, crushed 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 can crushed tomatoes (1 ½ cups) 4 cups (32 ounces) crushed tomatoes (from my freezer)
1 can tomato sauce (1 cup) (Nope, nothing to thicken this sauce but my own ingenuity)
1 package spaghetti sauce mix (And again, good luck with the seasoning)
½ cup olive oil
2 small onions, finely chopped
2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt (more than the recipe called for since I wasn’t using canned tomatoes)
1 teaspoon oregano (my addition to the recipe)
Fresh ground pepper to taste

(directions from this point are for Giada’s recipe)

Heat the olive oil in a small stock pot over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, and 1 teaspoon salt. Saute until all the vegetables are soft, about 10 more minutes. Add the tomatoes, bay leaves, and oregano and simmer over low heat for an hour or more, until sauce reaches your desired thickness. Remove bay leaves and discard. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

At this point in the recipe I decided to make a thicker sauce by using my immersion blender. If you like a sauce with an orange hue, I’d recommend doing this. If you think that’s too weird, I understand as I wondered how I was going to disguise the color in my lasagna.

Giada’s recipe for lasagna also includes a béchamel sauce.

The Béchamel Sauce

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ cup all purpose flour

2 cups warm milk (I used skim and it didn’t affect the flavor whatsoever)

¼ teaspoon salt (or more to taste)

pinch of white pepper and nutmeg

Melt the butter over medium heat in a two-quart saucepan. Stir in the flour and whisk until smooth and the flour begins to brown, about two minutes. Gradually (and she means gradually) add the warm milk whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Simmer sauce over medium heat, continuing to whisk the sauce until it becomes thick and creamy. This will take about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the salt, white pepper and nutmeg.

In my original recipe for lasagna I didn’t have béchamel sauce, but all of the other ingredients were similar, including the spinach. Naturally I used frozen spinach in the original recipe, since it was easier. In this version I used fresh spinach that I cooked down in the same pan I browned the meat, soaking up any leftover meat flavor from the pan.

Assembling The Lasagna

12 ounces lasagna noodles

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound ground beef or ground chuck

2 cups béchamel sauce

2 cups marinara sauce (Giada has 1 ½ but I found the lasagna didn’t have enough sauce so I’m upping the amount here)

1 ½ pounds ricotta (Again, I used skim)

3 large eggs

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 cups shredded mozzarella

1 pound spinach, cooked and squeezed dry

¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

  1. Boil the lasagna noodles in a large pot of water, cooking until they are almost al dente, about 6 minutes. You want them to still be a bit firm for layering. When the noodles are done, rinse immediately in cold water and lay them out individually on a damp towel so they don’t stick together.
  2. Cook the ground beef until brown, draining off any fat. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the béchamel and marinara sauces to blend. Season additionally with salt and pepper as desired.
  4. In another bowl mix together the ricotta, eggs, and ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper until well blended.
  5. Prepare your 13 x 9 inch pan for assembly by spreading the melted butter over the bottom. Spoon in a layer of the marinara/béchamel sauce (using about 1/3 of your mixture).
  6. Next add a layer of lasagna noodles, overlapping them by about ½ inch. Add ½ of the ricotta mixture and your spinach, then another layer of noodles.
  7. Next layer up is another 1/3 of the marinara/béchamel mixture, the rest of the ricotta mixture, and the ground beef. I’d throw in a bit of mozzarella cheese at this point as well, and add your final layer of noodles.
  8. Finally, add the remaining 1/3 of the marinara/béchamel, the remaining mozzarella cheese and parmesan cheese.
  9. Heat the oven to 375° and bake until the dish is bubbling over, about 45 minutes. You may want to set your lasagna pan on a baking sheet covered with foil, so the lasagna doesn’t drip over the pan onto your oven.