Friday, July 31, 2009

BBA: Challah

We continue to work our way through the alphabet with the BBA challenge, and "C" happens to be a big letter for bread. Possibly the biggest, so we will be here for a while. The "C" in this week's C-bread, Challah, is silent, but it can hold its own with the other C-breads in every other respect.

I am sure that I have a lot to say about the process of making this bread, but lucky for you, I am scrambling to get this post drafted so I could get out of town, so I won't say (most of) it.

I will note that proud as I was of Artie, I was pretty sure I couldn't handle birthin' another loaf of bread quite so big. So I decided at the outset that I'd divide the dough in half and make two smaller loaves. And I sure am glad that I did - even the smaller loaves looked plenty big to me, and one big loaf might have out-Artied Artie.

Getting ready to braid:


Somehow the braiding looked slightly better before I baked it. Plenty of room for improvement with that braiding, yes there is.

I had a small bite of this bread fresh out of the oven and thought it was very good. But I didn't really see us eating it for dinner, so I decided to let the loaves get stale. One loaf is coming on vacation with us, and I plan to make Ina Garten's recipe for challah french toast for breakfast one morning. I will report back!

I turned the other loaf into croutons, which were really great - we enjoyed them in soup and on salad all week!

Aaaaaaand there goes Blogger, flipping my pictures again. Thanks for nothing, Blogger.

Next up: ciabatta!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

TWD: Vanilla Ice Cream

I've definitely been enjoying my ice cream maker this summer, so I was excited to see that Lynne of Cafe LynnyLu picked vanilla ice cream for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe. Excited, that is, until I saw that this was one of those egg/custard kinds of ice cream. Some people learn to deal with their weaknesses by facing them head on until they conquer them; I prefer to deal with my weaknesses by avoiding them. And since there are wonderfully delicious Philadelphia-style (non-custard based) vanillas out there, it has been gloriously easy for me to avoid dealing with eggs in my ice creams. But I wanted to be a good sport and give the custard thing one more try. And this time, I was armed with some incredibly helpful comments and suggestions left by my fellow bloggers after my last custard failure. So I went into this one feeling really optimistic.

The main thing I took away from the honey-peach debacle is to ditch the thermometer. The thermometer's great if you want to figure out the interior temperature of your challah, or whether your steak is medium rare, but it can really mess with your head when you are trying to make custard. I do have my eye on a more custard-friendly thermometer that I might ask for my birthday or Christmas (along with some equally sentimental gift like a biscuit cutter) but until then, I decided to trust the spoon test and (shudder) my own common sense. And it worked like a charm! It only took the base 2 or 3 minutes to pass the spoon test. Now that I know what the custard is supposed to look like, I am very grateful that my family survived my honey peach ice cream, given how appallingly overcooked the custard for that actually was (I probably cooked that one for 30 minutes trying in vain to get it to reach temperature). I feel lucky that we all got away that time with nothing worse than "grainy mouth feel."

But there was no grainy mouth feel this time - this vanilla was delicious, and smooth as silk. It kept its wonderful texture even after a couple of days in the freezer, which might be the main benefit to using eggs in the ice cream. In terms of flavor, it's almost impossible for me to choose whether I like this one or David Lebovitz's Philadelphia-style vanilla better without an actual side-by-side taste test. They are both fabulous. I'm probably more likely to stick with the Philadelphia-style, simply because it has one less step for me to potentially mess up. But I loved Dorie's vanilla, and am glad to have finally conquered custard.

Thanks for this great pick, Lynne!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers: Peach & Blueberry Crumbles and Pasta with Sundried Tomatoes

I am in two blogging groups that post on Thursdays, Barefoot Bloggers and Craving Ellie in my Belly. Since Barefoot only has twice monthly "mandatory" (for lack of a better word) posting requirements, I originally planned to post CEiMB recipes on Barefoot off weeks. Well, I don't think that's happened once. Usually what I end up doing is double-posting on Thursdays, and dashing off some painfully long, disjointed, incohesive, confusing post that includes some weirdo dinner combination like a Tomato Goat Cheese Tart and Chicken with Mango Barbecue Sauce. But that's worked okay, up until now, because I get my assignments turned in that way, and besides, I have to believe that nobody is actually coming here to learn anything.

But recently I've fallen into a bad habit of cooking/baking, but not posting about the recipe. While it's true that people have cooked, but not blogged about it, for centuries, when you sign on as a member of a food blogging group and solemnly swear to share your cooking experience on the World Wide Web, do the cooking without the attendant blogging and you'll look at the group blogroll one day and find that you've been dumped more unceremoniously than Jessica Simpson. I don't want that to happen to me, so I'm trying to catch up.

Given that I am so far behind on blogging assignments, I find myself with faced with the Mother of all unwieldy posts -- Peach & Blueberry Crumbles, Pasta with Sundried Tomatoes, Baked Onion Rings, and Lobster Rolls. I've decided to break it down by group. So if you are here looking for the CEiMB recipes, go here. Stay right here if you want to read about Barefoot.

This week's Barefoot recipe is for Peach & Blueberry Crumbles, chosen by Aggie of Aggie's Kitchen. This is such a great summer dessert. It seems like we can hardly keep up with the wonderful bounty of peaches and blueberries these days, so this was a great way to use some of them up. This one is a simple mixture of fruit, sugar, flour and lemon (juice and zest), topped with a sugar/brown sugar/cinnamon topping. It was quick and easy to make, smelled incredible while baking, and was so delicious. I cut the recipe in half and made three mini crumbles (I used teacups since I don't have ramekins). I served one to David with vanilla ice cream, and had half of one myself. A little while later, I was in the other room when David shouted from the kitchen "Hey! What's the plan for these cobblers?" I yelled back: "There is no plan! I just halved the recipe and it made three!" When I returned to the kitchen, the second full cobber was gone. Even though I didn't get any real verbal reviews about the crumbles, I'm taking that as positive feedback. This is definitely a recipe I'll come back to again and again.

A couple of weeks ago the non-slacker Barefoot Bloggers posted Pasta with Sundried Tomatoes, which was chosen by Cat of Delta Whiskey. I loved this pasta dish so much that I still can't believe I didn't post it on time. You would have thought that the words would just flow when one is so inspired by the perfect sundried tomato/olive/mozzarella salad. From now on, if anyone asks me to bring a pasta salad to a picnic, this is the one I'm bringing. And if anyone asks me to bring a potato salad to a picnic, I still might bring this salad and say "What? I thought you said PASTA salad."

It doesn't get much simpler than this - fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, sundried tomatoes, and kalamata olives (actually, Ina says use "good black olives, such as kalamata." I also think this would be good with regular old (i.e., not particularly good) black olives). Ina says to use sundried tomatoes packed in oil; I used the ones packed in a wrapper, because I had a sneaking suspicion that there would be ample opportunity to make up for that lost oil later. The dressing contains more sundried tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper (the recipe calls for capers; I left them out because I'm not a fan). The recipe calls for 6T oil and 2T vinegar; I cut down the oil to 4T (I think). Top with fresh basil and parmesan.

I l-o-v-e-d this salad, even before the parmesan and basil was added. David was not quite so enthusiastic. I think it comes down to where you stand on olives. I won't go so far as to say that I love them - don't want to overuse that word - but I am strongly in like with them. David, on the other hand, feels a deep sense of relief every night that I don't serve an olive dish for dinner. He particularly dislikes good olives. So when I make this again, I will serve the olives as a garnish, along with the basil and parmesan, so hubs can skip them and enjoy it more.

You can find the recipe for the Pasta with Sundried Tomatoes salad here. The Peach & Blueberry Crumble recipe is not on the Food Network website, so I'm including it at the end of this post.

This was a great month for Barefoot Bloggers! Thank you, Aggie and Cat!

Peach & Blueberry Crumbles, from Barefoot Contessa at Home

For the fruit

2 lbs firm, ripe peaches (6-8 peaches)
2 tsp grated lemon zest
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup fresh blueberries (1/2 pint)
For the Crumble

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 lb (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Immerse the peaches in boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute, until their skins peel off easily. Place them immediately in cold water. Peel the peaches, slice them into thick wedges, and place them in a large bowl. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, granulated sugar, and flour. Toss well. Gently mix in the blueberries. Allow the mixture to sit for 5 minutes. Spoon the mixture into ramekins or custard cups.
For the topping, combine the flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the butter is the size of peas. Rub the mixture with your fingertips until it’s in big crumbles, then sprinkle evenly over the fruit. Place the ramekins on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and back for 40 to 45 minutes, until the tops are browned and crisp and the juices are bubbly. Serve warm or at room temperature. If you want to make these early, store the unbaked crumbles int he refrigerator and bake before dinner. Serves 5 to 6.

Ellie: Oven Baked Onion Rings and Lobster Rolls

This week's CEiMB recipe for Oven Baked Onion Rings was chosen by Mary Ann of Meet Me in the Kitchen. Have you seen Mary Ann's blog? She makes the most beautiful, inventive food, and her photography is stunning. I knew she'd hook us up with a great CEiMB pick! I had really high hopes for this one - I love onion rings and was hoping for a healthier version that would allow for more frequent indulgences. And this recipe is it.

The onions here are coated with buttermilk, salt, pepper, and a baked potato chip crumb/cayenne mixture. The cayenne definitely packs some heat; I might cut it down next time so I could breathe when I eat these. But we really loved them. They are crispy on the outside, soft on the inside - just like you want onion rings to be. These would be perfect with burgers, or really sandwiches of any kind. Keeper! Thanks Mary Ann!

A couple of weeks ago, another one of my favorite bloggers, MacDuff from Lonely Sidecar, chose lobster rolls for the weekly CEiMB recipe. MacDuff's writing and storytelling skills are phenomenal, and I know that whenever I visit her blog I'll come away with much more than just a good recipe for lobster rolls. Not that that wouldn't be enough. Well, while the conscientious Ellie-ites were posting their lobster rolls a couple of weeks ago, I was making but not posting them. I kind of figured that that ship had sailed, but I just got back in town from my sister's baby shower, and I dumped a couple of hundred pictures onto the computer, and I thought "what am I going to do with those lobster roll pictures if I don't post them?" So here we go.

This is another simple Ellie recipe - thank you for adding some much-needed simplicity to our lives, Ellie. Instead of the usual mayonnaise-laden lobster (or shrimp, which I used) salad, this one is made mostly with Greek yogurt (along with a little bit of mayo, celery, green onions, lemon juice, salt and pepper). Fill up some toasted hot dog buns with the salad, and you're done!

I'm not the world's biggest fan of shrimp/lobster salad in general, but I really did like these. They make for a quick, fun, and easy summer lunch or dinner. And as luck would have it, they'd be great with some onion rings!

Thanks for the great picks, Mary Ann and MacDuff!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

TWD: Brioche Plum Tart

I'm really not quite sure what to say this week, because I've officially run out of ways to say "Oops, I underbaked it." I feel like I have no excuse for failing at a brioche-based recipe given how frequently I seem to make brioche these days. But the brioche in this recipe is of the "poor man's," i.e., lower butter, variety, and maybe I need the extra butter in my brioche to mask my inevitable mistakes. In any case, this one just seemed to go poorly from the beginning. To start with, I had the hardest time converting the active dry yeast that the recipe called for to the instant yeast that I had. Sure, I could have just asked Nancy, but I was determined to give the 'ol brain a workout and figure it out on my own. It's like at work - I work with a paralegal who is an honest-to-goodness math wiz, and while it's so tempting to just say "Mike, I can't figure out the post-judgment interest, can you?," sometimes I just need to prove to myself that I can still do basic math without spontaneously combusting. So while it hurt my brain, I sat there with a pencil and calculator until I finally determined that 1.5 teaspoons active dry yeast = a little more than 1 teaspoon instant. I think. That's what I used, anyway.

Dorie said that the dough would be fairly thin, more like a batter than a dough. But mine was unquestionably dough-like. Then the dough didn't seem to rise much, a problem that I always used to have, but haven't had in a while. In fact, if anything, I've had the opposite problem lately - dough that threatens to rise high enough to bust through the roof. I did the whole refrigerate/deflate routine, but my heart wasn't really in it because there wasn't really anything to deflate.

The next morning I pressed the dough into the pan.

I cut up my plums. I'm very curious to hear if anyone actually used 14 plums for this. That's a whole lot of plums. I used 5 or 6 and my tart was chock full 'o plums. Then I spread some plum jam on the dough. Actually, that's a lie. I used plum jelly, which I found at the farmer's market around the corner from my house. I never really did know what the difference is between jam and jelly, but if I could blame my tart woes on my misguided use of jelly rather than jam, I will. Topped my jam jelly with plums, and baked.

Once it started baking I began to feel better about my brioche. It was puffing up and browning nicely. I had to tent it after around 15 minutes to keep it from getting too brown. It looked done to me after 30 minutes, although, in retrospect, the juices were not bubbly. I should have baked it longer. Because:

Oh yeah! Raw dough under the jelly! And I wasn't going to try the re-bake thing again - I'd be kicked out of the club for sure if I pulled that one two weeks in a row. David worked all day on Sunday, and I could see him eyeing the tart as I headed upstairs to put the kids to bed. I told him to leave the tart alone because it was partially unbaked, and I'd have to deconstruct it to make it edible. He promised me that he would not go in without a guide.

So I cut up the plums and the baked portions of the brioche and threw them together in my beloved new pink Sur la Table ruffled ice cream bowl, and topped with ice cream. The result?

D: Where is the jam?
C: The jelly?
D: The jelly.
C: Well, unfortunately, the jelly was right on top of the raw dough, so when I scraped away the raw dough to get to the baked part, I probably scraped away most of the jelly too. Sorry.
D: Well, it kind of tastes like bread and plums with ice cream.
C: Yeah, I was afraid of that.

Thank you for this great summer pick, Denise of Chez Us. I've heard great reviews of this, so maybe I'll try it again someday when a dark cloud of bad baking luck is not hovering over my head.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

BBA: Brioche

I've continued to bake through the Bread Baker's Apprentice in order for the BBA challenge, although I've fallen a little behind on my posting. Brioche comes after bagels in the BBA, so we've moved from chewy water bread to rich butter bread. I think I've made brioche more than any other yeast bread, which is a little odd, but I love the sweet breakfast breads like cinnamon buns and sticky buns that are typically formed from brioche. I was interested to see how Peter Reinhart's brioche would compare to the other brioche that I made (Dorie Greenspan's), although I knew that I couldn't really reliably compare the two because of the two month time lapse between making them. Plus, I imagine that whatever brioche you're eating at the moment is the best brioche you've ever had anyway.

Peter Reinhart provides three different versions of brioche - rich man's (2 cups butter), middle class (1 cup butter) and poor man's (1/2 cup butter). In true Goldilocks fashion, I chose to make the middle class version, because it would provide a genuine brioche experience (and produce a bread ideal for sweet rolls) without the shock & horror factor that is always present for me when I unwrap four sticks of butter to use in one recipe.

The dough begins with a quick 20 minute sponge, then everything gets mixed together. Here is where I wish that I either wrote my posts right away, or took notes. I remember that the dough was very soft, and I vaguely remember not really enjoying working with it. I THINK the dough was sticky (and I know I need to buck up, but I can't stand working with sticky dough), but that might have been some other dough, or maybe just my kids pawing me with lollipop hands. In any event, I remember that I was happy to get this shaped and in the pans. The dough rose well:

And turned onto bread when baked:

I used half of my dough to make three mini loaves, and the other half to make Dorie Greenspan's brioche raisin snails. The snails were fun to make - they involve lighting raisins and rum on fire, how could they not be? - and were delicious. I skipped the glaze on the first few I made (I froze some of the unbaked rolls to make for hubs later on Father's Day), but after glazing the second batch I realized that the glaze really makes the snails. So from now on when I make raisin snails, they'll be glazed.

This brioche was wonderful, although I can safely say at this point that brioche will never be my first bread choice for sandwiches or toast. It's delicious, but there are lots of delicious sandwich and toasting breads out there that are not so rich. But I will definitely make brioche again to use for sticky buns, cinnamon buns and snails, so I'm thrilled to have it in the repertoire!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

TWD: Tribute-to-Katharine Hepburn-Brownies

Lisa of Surviving Oz chose this week's Tuesdays With Dorie recipe, Tribute-to-Katharine Hepburn brownies. Katharine Hepburn, screen legend . . .

Katharine Hepburn

. . . and brownie aficionado. Dorie explains that KH was famous for her brownies, and once convinced a young woman named Heather Henderson to stay in school over a plate of them. Ms. Henderson later shared her gratitude to KH for making her tough it out at Bryn Mawr, and for sharing some important life rules: "(1) Never quit. (2) Be yourself and (3) Don't put too much flour in your brownies."

I think that Katharine Hepburn was an enormous talent, so I was eager to pay tribute to her by whipping up a batch of her brownies. I mixed together the tiny bit (1/4 cup) of flour with some salt. I omitted the 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, which was an optional ingredient. If I've learned anything since joining TWD, it's that (in my opinion) (1) chocolate=good. (2) cinnamon=good. (3) chocolate+cinnamon=just plain wrong.

Then I melted a stick of butter and mixed some cocoa and instant coffee over it when it began to melt. The recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of coffee, but I cut it down to 1 teaspoon after my experience with Ina's Outrageously Coffeeish Brownies. I wanted the coffee to enhance the chocolate flavor, but I did not want to be able to taste coffee.

Once that's all blended, add in the eggs, sugar and vanilla, without beating anything too vigorously, so as to not add air into the batter. That's really the kind of instruction that I wish came with a video. It's like when our first child was born, and they were actually about to release us from the hospital to take care of this human being on our own. I asked the nurse if I could videotape her swaddling him so I could refer to the video to study her technique when we got home and started to swaddle him incorrectly. The nurse was used to dealing with crazy new moms, so she let me. Anyway, there are definitely times that I wish that I could videotape real bakers doing things like beating with just the right amount of vigor for any mixing situation. Left to my own devices, I just did the best I could.

Then add the dry ingredients, 4 oz. chopped chocolate, and a cup of chopped nuts. I left out the nuts because I prefer brownies without nuts, but in retrospect, I wonder if that omission can help explain what happened next.

That's a view of the underside of the brownies, after baking for thirty minutes and cooling for thirty minutes. Here's a closer look:

The pictures do not adequately convey the magnitude of the rawness of my brownies. Now, the problem with these brownies is that they are SUPPOSED to be gooey when they come out of the oven, so it is hard to really gauge proper gooeyness versus unacceptable gooeyness. In fact, the recipe does not call for the usual knife test, or even the divot test, to evaluate doneness. The only physical characteristic that Dorie says to look for is a "dry papery crust" on the top of the brownies, which mine had. See?

Well, it was clear that the brownies were not going to work in liquid form. My options at that point were (1) freeze; or (2) re-bake. Since I was taking these to a cookout, I decided to re-bake. I stuck them on a baking sheet and put them in the oven for another fifteen minutes, at which point they were finally done.

I feel terrible about mangling Katharine Hepburn's brownies; if Heather Henderson tried my twice-baked version of Katharine's brownies she would have quit Bryn Mawr for sure and bummed around Jackson Hole for a few years. But once again we can thank the redemptive powers of butter, sugar and chocolate for saving the day. I mean, how bad could these really be? I'm sure that my texture was off (what with the whole bake/cool/bake again thing), but at the end of the day these were still butter-filled, sugar-filled, chocolate filled bits of decadence. I held my head high when I handed these to the hostess - no shame here! Thanks for the great pick, Lisa!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Ellie Krieger's Breakfast Cookies

I have to thank my good friend Peggy for talking me into making this week's CEiMB recipe, Breakfast Cookies, chosen by Natalie of What's For Supper?. The cookies sounded good to me from the beginning, but I just wasn't sure I was going to be able to fit them in. Then I saw Peggy, who had already made them and raved about how fabulous they are, and suddenly it was clear that nothing I had going on could possibly be as important as making these cookies -- my tire rotation, filing deadline, permanent crown, birthday party preparations, handyman meeting, and sleep could all wait.

I've had store-bought breakfast cookies before, and thought they were really pretty bad. Like actually kind of inedible. So I didn't know what to expect with these, but I figured they had to be better than the store-bought ones. Sometimes it's nice to go into a recipe with the bar set really low.

This is certainly an unusual recipe. It calls for whole wheat pastry flour, which of course they did not have at Publix, so I used white whole wheat. It also calls for all-purpose flour; cinnamon & nutmeg to spice things up; brown and white sugar; a little bit of butter and canola oil, an egg and vanilla. The "breakfast" in these is provided by oats, bran flakes, raisins and walnuts. And the secret ingredient:

My poor hubs almost had a heart attack when he came home and saw that sitting on the kitchen counter. He said "What's THIS for??" and I saw the color drain from his face. I don't know if he felt any better when I told him it was just for the cookies I was making. Yeah, he probably did.

Wow, we love these cookies! They have a lightly spiced flavor and a wonderful soft and chewy texture. They feel hearty but not heavy. Most of the fat in these comes from canola oil, so they are healthier than most cookies, but they don't taste "healthy" (which is a deal-breaker for me with cookies). I will definitely make these again, and not just because I have the second container of baby food carrots that came in the two-pack. These are really delicious, and perfect for grabbing and going on busy mornings. Thanks for the great pick, Natalie!

Breakfast Cookies, Ellie Krieger 2007

3/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup (1 small jar) strained carrot baby food
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup bran cereal flakes
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup walnut pieces, lightly toasted in a dry skillet for 2 minutes, until fragrant and chopped
Place rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Whisk together flours, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Combine butter, oil and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix on high speed, scraping down sides if necessary, until sugars have dissolved and mixture is light in color, about 1 minute. Add egg, carrot puree and vanilla and beat an additional 30 seconds. Add flour mixture and beat an additional 30 seconds. Add oats, flakes, raisins and walnuts and mix over low speed just until incorporated. Dough will be slightly sticky and less cohesive than traditional cookie dough. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Using between 3 to 4 tablespoons of batter, form a ball and place on cookie sheet. Repeat with remaining batter, leaving about 3 inches between cookies. Wet hands and use palm of hand to flatten cookies until about 1/4-inch thick. Bake for 12 minutes, until cookies are fragrant but still soft. Let cookies cool slightly, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Blog Design By: Sherbet Blossom Designs