Friday, February 29, 2008

Beauty is in the eye of the baker

I knew it would happen. A daring baker challenge that would make me want to pull the covers over my head and hide! When I saw this month's challenge, I almost opted to sit this one out. Only four simple ingredients, how scary can that be, you ask? Well the instructions following those 4 ingredients filled 13 pages when I printed them out. Yes 13! The time from start to finish is anywhere from 6 1/2 hours to about 8 to 9 hours. Scared yet?... I thought so! I've made plenty of bread, rolls etc... but have always shied away from French bread, and this was Julia Child's French bread. The French have very specific standards when it come to making bread, right down to the length. My oven isn't big enough to make baguettes, which are 24 inches long, so I made the shorter 16 inch batards. Or at least they we're 16 inches long when I rolled them out, things changed in the oven.

So after much waffling between running and hiding and actually giving it a try, I mustered up my baking courage and jumped in. I started early around 7:30 in the morning and made my dough. No problems there, easy in fact. How hard can mixing together 4 ingredients be. Well one them is yeast and I'm always afraid I'll kill it somehow. By the way how many things do you cook that you worry about keeping "alive"?!? Anyway, I put my happy dough with very much alive yeast into a bowl and went about my day. About 4 hours later it was ready to be deflated and rise again. About an hour and a half later is when I really started to get nervous. I'd made the dough but now what would happen. Would I cause Julia to roll over in her grave in horror? I must admit I was a tad confused reading the instructions for forming the loaves. So I formed my loaves, trying to follow the instructions. I let them rise yet again. Then came another challenge, how to get the bread to the sheet pan without deflating it. My first attempt was a little difficult. The dough did not want to cooperate with me at all. The second loaf was a little easier to manage. The round loaf was not a problem because I could kind of pick it up in the towel. Oh yeah I used kitchen towels for the final rise because I didn't have canvas and wasn't sure where I could even buy it! Next came slashing the tops of my loaves with a razor. I guess this just takes practice (or a sharper razor!?). My razor kinda stuck to the bread. I got sort of slashes in my bread and I was ready for the oven. No matter what happened at this point, I knew that when I put it in the oven,as Julia said in her instructions,I'd get bread! I may not be beauty pageant winning bread but it would be bread. When it came out it was ugly duckling like, but when I tore the end off it was gorgeous on the inside! The bread a had great crust and was soft inside with a beautiful crumb. I was so happy I immediately slathered butter on a piece. I broke the rules and didn't wait 2 hours until cutting the bread. My patience was gone after waiting on this bread all day!
Oh and it tasted marvelous as well. So suck up your fear and make yourself some french bread!
I looked at Mary's(aka breadchick) pictures today and boy I could have used those before I made my loaves! Mary together with Sara were our illustrious hosts this month, check out their picture's to see great this bread can actually look. Thanks Mary and Sara for making me face my fears! I learned a lot on this challenge. The bread was wonderful and maybe with practice mine will even be pretty!
Go here for the recipe and many instructions! Be sure to check out how all the other daring baker's faired on this challenge

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Banana Pancakes

"Make you banana pancakes, pretend like it the week-end now..." Pancakes and week-end just seem to go together. They always make me think of lazy Saturday or Sunday mid-morning's with nothing to do but drink coffee and read the paper in your pj's. Since hubs has been deployed I haven't made pancakes at all. Maybe because making pancakes for yourself feels lonely or maybe it just because you can't make just one or two pancakes! I like my pancakes with fruit and/or nuts added in them. Banana pancakes with toasted walnuts are probably my favorite. Just drizzle them with some warm maple syrup and a bit of butter *drool*. Leftovers do freeze quite well by the way. Can't wait till hubs and I can enjoy a lazy week-end eating pancakes together...sigh.
Anyway when I saw the "Eat to the Beat" event hosted by Elly says Opa, I immediately though of the song Banana Pancakes by Jack Johnson. Check it out here. And while your listening, make some banana pancakes because... "This song is meant to keep you, from doing what your supposed to."
Banana Walnut Pancakes
Adapted from Joy of Cooking

Whisk together in a large bowl:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 3/4 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Mix in another bowl:
1 1/2 cups milk
3 tablespoons butter, melted
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
Mix the liquid ingredients quickly into the dry ingredients. Do not over mix.
Fold in:
3/4 cup of finely diced banana
1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts
Allow mixture to rest, covered and refrigerated at least 20 minutes. Can be made the night before.
Spray griddle or large skillet with nonstick cooking spray. Heat over
medium heat until hot. For each pancake, pour scant 1/4 cup batter onto hot
griddle. Cook 1 1/2 to 2 minutes or until puffed on edges and bubbles begin
to break on surface. Turn; cook an additional 1 to 2 minutes.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Comfort food?

I love the comfort foods of winter, mac and cheese, polenta, anything over mashed potatoes. They are warm and satisfying. These kinds of foods just seem to help me to deal with the cold dark winter days. By the end of February, as much as I love those carb packed foods, I find myself a in need of something fresh and green. I crave something in a color scheme other than shades of beige. A good salad, perhaps. So when I saw that the theme for "Waiter there's something in my..." was salad, I knew it was just what I needed. The event is hosted this month by Andrew over at Spittoon Extra. He suggested that if possible everyone should use local, seasonal, organic ingredients. Not possible for many I'm sure, but I'm lucky to have access to wonderful fresh organic lettuce nearly year round. My parents grow the most delicious, buttery organic butter head lettuce as well as other varieties in their hydroponic greenhouse at Waterberry Farm. We're spoiled I know.
I had some blood oranges that I had picked up at the market a few days ago and wanted to use.
So I made Blood Orange Salad with Orange Poppy Seed Vinaigrette.
I tore the salad leaves of one head of the butter lettuce by hand. The butter head lettuce is so tender that cutting it with a knife tends to bruise it. I segmented one blood orange and added thin slices of red onion and some kalamata olives.

For the Vinaigrette:
3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup good quality olive oil
juice from one small blood orange
about 2 teaspoons honey
pinch of salt
fresh ground pepper to taste
whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl starting with 1/4 cup of olive oil. Drizzle in more olive oil if needed to bring the dressing together.

Today was rainy and cold but this salad was like sunshine on a plate. Maybe not quite comfort food, but the colorful salad helped lift my spirits on this cold cloudy day!

Monday, February 18, 2008

milk and grown-up oatmeal cookies

Well they're perfectly fine for children I'm sure, but when I first saw a recipe for oatmeal cookies with fat raisins I had to make them. The raisins are simmered in rum and white wine. Boozed up raisins have got to be good! Oatmeal cookies are one of my favorite cookies so with drunken raisins...I really wanted to try these. Share them with the kids if you like, but after one bite you may want to tell your children these cookies are for "grown-ups".

The recipe is by Sherry Yard's newest cookbook Desserts by the Yard. I'm a fan of Sherry and love her latest cookbook. She made these cookies for a party at Spago for President Clinton. He declared them his favorite cookie. So in her cookbook she calls them President Clinton's Oatmeal Cookies. As if the drunken raisins weren't reason enough to try them, they've also got a Presidential endorsement! I have to say after making them, I agree with President Clinton. These are some good cookies.
The fat raisins are so tasty and add a wonderful depth of flavor to the cookie. And look how pretty the raisins are, like little jewels!

After making these tipsy raisins I want to put them in everything. They'd be great in muffins, over ice cream, or maybe in sticky buns...mmmm...all the possiblities. Luckly I doubled the raisin portion of the recipe and have leftovers to use. I'll let you know how I use them!

For the Fat Raisins
1 cup seedless golden raisins
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon dark rum
2 tablespoons sugar
Make the Fat Raisins: Place the raisins, wine, orange juice, dark rum, and sugar in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Lower the heat so that the raisins are at a bare simmer, and poach for about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside, covered with plastic wrap. (The raisins will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 2 weeks.)

For The Cookies
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspon baking soda
7 ounces (1-3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3 cups quick-cooking oats

Make the Cookies: Sift the flour and the baking soda together in a small bowl.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream the butter on high speed until lemony yellow, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and paddle. Add the sugars and spices. Continue creaming the mixture on high speed until it is smooth and lump free, about 2 more minuts. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle.
Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl and paddle after each addition. Beat on low speed for 15 to 30 seconds, until the eggs are fully incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and paddle.
On low speed, add the sifted flour mixture, beating until all of the flour is incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Still on low, mix in the oats and raisins.
With a rubber spatula, scoop out half the dough and plop it down along the center of a sheet of parchment paper. Roll it up in the paper, creating a log about 2 inches wide and 12 inches long. Repeat with the second half of the dough. Twist the ends of the parchment and fold them over, creating sausages. Refigerate the dough logs for a minimum of one hour. (Well wrapped, the dough can be refigerated up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 month.)
Place the racks in the middle and the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degreesF. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Unroll the dough. Using a chef's knife or a serrated knife, preferably offset, slice 1/2-inch-thick rounds off the log. Place the cookies on the baking sheets, spaced 2 inches apart. Bake for 12 minutes. Rotate the baking sheets from the top to bottom and from front to back, and bake for another 5 to 8 minutes, until nicely browned. Remove the cookies from the oven and carefully slide the parchment off the sheet and directly onto the work surface. Cool for at least 5 minutes before eating, or cool completely and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days at room temperature.

Makes about 4 dozen smaller cookies or 2 dozen large

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

I've been up to my elbows in flour and frosting baking cupcakes for Valentine's Day and just wanted to wish you all a Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Strawberry Walnut Muffins

I've mentioned before that my parents have a farm. Waterberry Farm is a hydroponics farm and we grow all kinds of produce, but mainly strawberries. The strawberries are grown in a hydoponics stacker system using all organic methods. We've got about 6000 berry plants in this year, and we will be picking our first ripe berry any day now. I froze several bags of strawberries last season and I wanted to use them up before the fresh strawberries were ready. We eat A LOT of strawberries. Lucky, I know! With an abundance of strawberries around, I'm always looking for new recipes. I came across a recipe for a strawberry quick bread on Megans Cooking that looked interesting, and I could use my frozen strawberries. In Megan's post she also made a strawberry butter to go with the quick bread. It looked really tasty as well, but I opted to make just the bread. Although it's more like a coffee cake than a bread, in my opinion. Anyway, instead of baking the batter in two loaf pans, I made half the batter into muffins and just one loaf. It made good muffins with a nice texture, although if I make this again, I'll cut back on the cinnamon in the recipe. To me it overpowered the taste of the strawberries somewhat. I think I'd also puree the berries to give more strawberry flavor through out the bread.


3 cups All-purpose flour

2 cups Sugar

3 teaspoons Cinnamon

1 teaspoon Baking soda

1 teaspoon Salt

1 1/4 cup Vegetable oil

4 Eggs
1 1/4 pound Fresh strawberries; sliced -OR - Unsweetened frozen berries, thawed, drained and coarsely chopped1/2 cup Walnuts, coarsely chopped2 (8-1/2 x 4-1/2-inch) loaf pans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour the two loaf pans. Mix the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the oil, eggs, strawberries, and walnuts. Beat until the dry ingredients are just moist. Pour into the prepared loaf pans and bake for 1 hour. The breads are done when they start to come away from the sides of the pan and an inserted wooden pick comes out clean.

For the muffins I cooked them 25-30 minutes.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Chocolate Mousse Tartlettes

I LOVE chocolate desserts. When I'm choosing dessert from a menu, I always look for the chocolate options first. I'm a sucker for any rich, decadent chocolate dessert. This recipe is for a pie that my mom used to make when I was growing up. It's an old recipe from Julia Childs. I like it because it's got rich chocolate flavor but yet isn't heavy like a cheesecake. It's a chocolate mousse in a crust. I've adapted her recipe slightly and instead of one pie I've made them into tartlettes and individual servings.
Vote for me in the Death by Chocolate contest

Chocolate Mousse Pie
1 1/2cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 ounce melted semi-sweet chocolate
1/3 cup melted butter
Mix together and press into a 9 inch pie or tart pan or into tartlette pans or small molds.

6 oz good quality semi-sweet or bitter sweet chocolate
3/4 cup of brown sugar divided
8 oz cream cheese at room temp
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs separated
1 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon Gran Marnier

Melt chocolate in double boiler over hot water. Cool slightly. Mix together in an upright mixer or with a hand mixer the cream cheese and 1/2 cup of brown sugar. Add vanilla, salt, and the egg yolks. Mix only until well incorporated. Fold the melted chocolate into the cream cheese mixture. Beat egg white until stiff but not dry. Gradually add remaining 1/4 cup of brown sugar and beat until stiff and dry. Take a small amount of the egg white and mix into the chocolate cream cheese mixture to lighten it then gently fold in the rest of the egg whites. Place the cream in mixing bowl and whip until about double in volume add the Gran Marnier and whip until it holds soft peaks. Fold about half of the whipped cream in to the chocolate cream cheese mixture. Reserving the rest of the cream for the top of the pie. Pour into prepared crust and chill overnight. Use reserved whipped cream to decorate the top of the pie.