Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Year of Daring Baker Challenges!

Perhaps I'm a complete dork, but sometimes marking special anniversaries make me a little loony. Okay, I am definitely a complete dork, but that may have more to do with telling every single family relative I've encountered over the holiday that my terrific husband bought me a Super Peel. It's a seriously cool thing.

So yes, anyway, I find anniversaries to be pretty cool. And this month will mark my one year anniversary of being a Daring Baker. My mom even made me this cute little cupcake pincushion. This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux.They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand

Yeah, I had no idea what that was either. I thought we did it last December. But apparently the French have two logs and this one is more of a frozen dessert. Actually this one was WAY more complicated than the first one. There were six elements to my "log": A coconut daquoise, a dark chocolate ganache, a dark chocolate mousse, a white chocolate coconut crisp layer (that there was a teensy error in the recipe resulting in what is best described as white chocolate and coconut coated Special K), a vanilla creme brulee, and a dark chocolate glaze. Make sure you check out the rest of the Daring Bakers to see what flavors they came up with. Everything went really well except that I'm a rebel and just made the whole thing in a 9 inch springform pan. The glaze then didn't really cover the whole cake.

And I have to say, we taste tested today after spending the day celebrating Christmas with my dad and stepmom. So there we were. My sister M., Super G and the Tummy, me and the Brain, my mom and my stepdad. And really by this point in the holiday celebrations (I've already had 3 separate, but equal, Christmases) none of us really wanted to eat yet another sweet thing. So we were kind of dreading the cake. But it was REALLY REALLY tasty! I did leave it up at my mom's, but all of us tasted it and not one of us had anything negative to say about it. It was rich and chocolaty and the coconut was subtle. I will definitely make this one again. But probably not after a week of feasting on approximately 9 million Christmas cookies.

I'm not emotionally stable enough to get on the scale after the past week and a half.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

If I manage to accomplish the Daring Baker Challenge for December, I'll post it, but otherwise I think I need a little break from things. It's just gotten to be too much for me right this minute. So I wish you all a very merry holiday season and the happiest of new years. Please don't forget about me and check back in January.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Celebration Cookies for OBG!

I am terribly behind. I'd like to say it's not entirely my fault. But really I'm behind because I have been poor at time management. See, I put off baking the Christmas cookies until I finished with school (last Thursday). But the teacher who I'm long term subbing for just had her baby on Tuesday so my Christmas cookies had to be baked around teaching math to about 60 or so 7th graders.

So while I've been off enjoying myself with 7th graders, I've had this package sitting here to send off to Kevin for Operation Baking Gals. My team this month is hosted by my bloggerganger the every so lovely Calamity Shazaam in the Kitchen. She's awesome. I have filled his package with Celebration Cookies from my mother-in-law's excellent recipe, candy canes, red and green m&m's, and a loaf of home-made stollen. I'll post on the stollen later, because you really want my mother-in-law's cookie recipe. Trust me on this one, it's like a peanut butter cookie wrapped around a Snickers bar. It's at the bottom of the post. But, before you go look at the recipe, let me show you my week in the kitchen in random photos.

Thank God I'm done baking the cookies because I'm so sick of eating cookies right now. Who knew that could happen? I'm also sick of having spaghetti for dinner. But don't you love my 6 tiers of stackable cooling racks? They would make an excellent Christmas present for a cookie baker on your list. Another very nice Christmas present is my lovely salt box that I purchased here. If you live in Minneapolis you might be able to get one by Christmas. Sorry, I meant to post about it MUCH sooner. The box was made by the lovely Marti the Potter who blogs over here.
Megan pointed me in the direction of my happy smiley faced spoons that I got at TJ Maxx for about $3 each. They would make an excellent stocking stuffer if you can find them at TJ Maxx, or a present for yourself because you can order them here and yeah, probably not in time for Christmas.

So I apologize for posting on these so late, but I really wanted to show them to you. Because I love them. Both the box and the spoons make me smile every time I see them. Well, the spoons make me smile because they're so silly, and the box makes me feel like I'm some jazzy classy chef type person as I grab a large pinch of salt to stir into my spaghetti water. I really need to start cooking again...

Celebration Cookies
from Peggy my mother-in-law
2 sticks butter
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
3 1/2 cups flour
2 bags mini Snickers bars
Cream butter and sugars, add peanut butter, eggs, vanilla, soda and flour. Mix together well. Chill 2 hours. Roll into balls a little bigger than a walnut. Make an indentation in the center the size of the candy, place the candy in the indent and wrap the dough completely around the candy bar. Bake 350 degrees 10-12 minutes. Cool 2 minutes on the cookie sheet and transfer to a cooling rack. Yield: about 4 dozen.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Chocolate Mint Cupcakes with Marshmallow Frosting

Um. I appear to have lost a week. Sorry about that. See, I had finals week. And I had a last minute meeting with the very pregnant teacher I'll be subbing for in January (unless baby comes sooner and I have to sub before Christmas break). And I met with my hairdresser and I'm not blond anymore. And there's some other stuff going on.

So, for the last day of class, my Effective Instruction class decided to mutiny and have a party instead. I brought cupcakes. I can pretty much be counted on to bring cupcakes.

When I was growing up, my dad always had the same birthday cake. It was a chocolate cake. And my mom would get one of those great big peppermint sticks and beat the living daylights out of it. She then would mix the crushed peppermint into the fudgey chocolate frosting in the middle layer and then frost the whole cake with just the chocolate frosting. I was thinking about that cake and decided to see if it would translate into cupcakes. Of course, then I got sidetracked (probably obsessing about my 8 page research paper analyzing my own adolescence for my psych class) and added mint extract. Shoot.

Being that I happen to love marshmallow frosting, I figured I'd try that on top and I already had the smashed up peppermints so I sprinkled them on too. All the while hollering Christmas carols at the top of my lungs.

Chocolate Mint Cupcakes with Marshmallow Frosting
an original Shazamer recipe.

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 tsp mint extract
2 large eggs
1 cup milk

Sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the mint extract and then eggs one at a time, making sure each is incorporated.
Alternate adding the flour and the milk, starting and ending with the flour. Beat for 30 seconds.
Fill 18 paper lined muffin cups and bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F. for 11 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool completely.

Marshmallow Frosting:
1 1/2 cups marshmallow fluff
6 Tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 Tbsp milk
pinch of salt

Cream together all ingredients.

To assemble:
8 crushed peppermints

Spread each cupcake with frosting and sprinkle with crushed peppermints.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Lamb Stew with Spinach and Garbanzo Beans

There's a nasty cold/flu that's going around. It flattened me for the weekend. It flattened the Brain for most of last week. That's one of the things about being married. We usually make each other sick. HAHAHAHAHA! (sorry, I couldn't resist.) But really, it happens with roommates or brothers and sisters. It's the nature of the beast. The nice thing is we have someone to take care of us once they've passed the bug on. For example, the Brain was right there with the Sprite and the cold medicine. He turned up the heat and gave me extra blankets. He was very nice.

When the Brain was sick, I made him this Lamb Stew. It's nice and hearty and full of healthy vegetables. The lamb gets so tender in the tomatoes that it almost falls apart. I suppose if you didn't buy an entire lamb at a county fair or lamb is hard to find, you could probably substitute some pork or beef, but I think the lamb adds a nice quality. This is a nice stick to your ribs kind of stew and it's really pretty easy to throw together.

Lamb Stew with Spinach and Garbanzo Beans
inspired by Bon Appetit

1 pound lamb stew meat
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15 ounce) can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed
1 cup chicken broth
3/4 cup tomato sauce (one small can)
1 can petite diced tomatoes with juice
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 (10 ounce) package frozen spinach thawed and drained

Sprinkle lamb with salt, and pepper. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add lamb and saute until brown, about 10 minutes. Add onion and carrots and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add minced garlic and saute 1 minute more. Add garbanzo beans, broth, tomatoes, tomato sauce, and lemon juice and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat, cover pot, and simmer gently until lamb is tender, about 1 hour.

Add spinach to stew. Bring back to a boil and cook for 5 minutes or until spinach is warmed through.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Vermont Baked Beans

Sometimes I feel like living in rural Ohio is similar to living in a Laura Ingles Wilder book. It's not quite the prairie, but it's certainly flat. Really. And as I drive back and forth to school I travel between huge fields of farmland. I see cows and sheep and deer and corn and wheat and soybeans. And there is a huge dead zone of probably 25 miles that I have no cellphone coverage. So when I travel the 30 miles back and forth through sleet and snow and rain, I become a very careful driver. And there has been a lot of sleet and snow and rain going on here.

This cold and dreary weather combined with Legume Wednesday, makes it the perfect time for baked beans. With salt pork. Yeah, salt pork is available in rural Ohio. Salt pork is actually a deliciously chewy addition to baked beans. The maple syrup is a nice tasty addition to the beans too. And the house felt all cozy and smelled so great as these beans cooked all morning. They really made such a cold and dreary snow soaked day much much better. And the urge to put twin braids in my hair passed nicely.
Vermont Baked Beans
from Cooking Light

1 pound dried navy beans (about 2 cups)
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion
1/2 cup diced salt pork (about 4 ounces)
5 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup maple syrup, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (such as Tabasco)

1. Sort and wash beans; place in a large bowl. Cover with water to 2 inches above beans; cover and let stand 8 hours or overnight. Drain beans.
2. Preheat oven to 325°.
3. Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion and pork to pan; saute 5 minutes. Add beans, 5 1/2 cups water, 1/2 cup syrup, mustard, salt, and pepper sauce; bring to a boil. Cover and bake at 325° for 2 1/2 hours or until beans are tender, stirring occasionally. Uncover and bake an additional 30 minutes or until mixture begins to thicken. Stir in remaining 1/4 cup syrup.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daring Bakers Caramel Cake

This month the Daring Bakers were hosted by Delores of Culinary Curiosity, Alex of The Blondie and the Brownie, Jenny of Foray into Food, and the lovely Natalie of Gluten a Go Go helped with the alternative Daring Baker side of things. We made a Caramel Cake created by Shuna Fish Lydon. Her recipe can be found here.

I wanted to like this cake. I mean brown butter and caramel sounds amazing. I was excited to make this cake and it's been done for weeks. But as reports from other Daring Bakers trickled in about it being mighty sweet, I got worried. Then I started thinking that maybe if I made tiny little bite sized petit fours I could handle the sweetness. Unfortunately no. These were far too sweet for me of the Brain and eventually most of it went trashward bound. The frosting was simple, and the salt made it excellent, but it was super sweet and on top of a sweet cake it was a bit of overkill. I even tried pouring some very dark chocolate over the top to cut how sweet they are a bit. But that only made them seem sweeter in contrast.

I think I would make the cake again. And I probably would make the frosting again, but I wouldn't make them together.

Make sure you check out the rest of the Daring Bakers!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Bond, Butterfly, An Apron and a Meme

OK, so this was a bit of a big weekend for me. I didn't cook a damn thing. And dinner tonight, although fairly tasty wasn't anything terribly exciting and so there's no food being posted today. Instead I'm going to let you know what happened this past weekend and fill you in on my ideas about Thanksgiving. And yeah this one's a little long, so you may want to go get a snack or something.

First this weekend I went and saw Madame Butterfly at the Michigan Opera Theatre with my best friend T. I'd like to say we had a lovely time and really enjoyed ourselves. Butterfly is actually one of my favorite operas and although this is the first time I've seen it live, I have seen it on PBS. Really PBS is a great place to catch an opera. The singing was absolutely beautiful as the Michigan Opera Theatre usually has a good show. The scenery was another story. The entire opera was set in the house that Pinkerton buys for himself and his Geisha bride Butterfly (Cio Cio San). This house is supposed to be up on a high hill that faces the ocean. The problem was there was a walkway set high up on this hill for the actors to get to the house. From our fairly cheap balcony seats, it was difficult to see what action was actually going on on that walkway. Mostly we could only see mid-calf and below of actors on that walkway. Memo to opera scenery group: Test out what the balcony people can see when designing a set. The other problem was that people continued to be sat for the first 15 minutes of the opera. While I understand that unforeseen circumstances happen, I just don't get how people can feel justified crawling over me to get to their seats because they just couldn't get to the opera anywhere near when it actually started. And this happened a LOT on Friday. My friend and I got climbed over and missed a bit. The people in front of us got climbed over and we missed a bit. And two rows in front of them got climbed over too. Then the guy behind us started opening bags of potato chips (we know because he littered the opera house floor with them). My friend T. and I came away really discouraged with how inconsiderate some people are.

OK, so sorry about the rant. Then we went and saw the new James Bond movie and all I can say is Daniel Craig is freakin' HOT. Like sizzling hot. Before I was uninterested in him as James Bond and now I'm regretting not actually having watched Casino Royale. Oh yeah, and if I had watched Casino Royale I might have a better idea about the plot of this one. I really liked the pissed off, butt kicking Latino woman too. And I thought the villain (Mr. Greene) was nice and sniveling. The naked girl drenched in oil was slightly reminiscent of the gold girl in Goldfinger, but overall there really wasn't enough sex. It's a Bond movie for crying out loud. There's supposed to be loads of sexy scenes. Have I mentioned Daniel Craig is dreamy? He's bumped Matthew McConaughey for the top spot in my head.

Also at my mom's this weekend I made a pretty fun apron.
Here's a lovely photo of my mom modeling it. She's trying to look domestic. Even though she doesn't cook, somehow we always get photos of her in the kitchen. You'll have to check Mom's blog for a photo of me. She does wash dishes. Unfortunately, my stepdad (who does the cooking) had to have surgery today. He came out of it just fine, but now he's got to deal with my mom and her ubiquitous stir frying until he's fully recuperated. They do have a plan for Thanksgiving though. They've ordered it from Bob Evans.

And finally, Amanda has tagged me for a Thanksgiving Meme. I'm not sure who has time to do it with all the cooking coming up, so I'm not tagging anyone specifically, but instead I tag people generally. If you'd like to do it, go ahead!

1.) Which do you like better, hosting Thanksgiving at home or going elsewhere?
Um I used to like hosting Thanksgiving in my home, but given the number of people I'd have to invite if I hosted, I'm now preferring to go elsewhere.
2.) Do you buy a fresh or frozen turkey? Organic? Free Range?
I buy whatever is cheapest and not injected with anything. Which most often is frozen. However I just learned last week that most of those frozen turkeys come from somewhere around here so I may find a fresh one next year.
3.) Do you make stuffing or dressing? What kind?
I make this Betty Crocker stuffing. And I love it.
4.) Sweet potato or pumpkin pie?
Neither. I don't like pie. I did make a pumpkin mousse one year. Pumpkin ice cream is good too.
5.) Are leftovers a blessing or a curse?
Blessing. Definitely.
6.) What side dishes are a must in your family?
Salad. I just don't understand big family meals without a salad. I'm just weird that way.
7.) What do you wish you had that might make Thanksgiving easier?
A Viking 6 burner stove. Or a turkey baster.
8.) If/When you go to someone else's house for the holiday, do you bring a dish? If so what is it?
Um. Salad. And wine.
9.) What do you wish one of your guests would bring to your house?
Booze. There's always room for more booze. Or pie. Other people seem to like pie and I'm pretty bad at making it.
10.) What do you wish one of your guests would NOT bring to your house?
Olives. I hate them. They give me the heeby jeebies.
11.) Do you stick with a particular menu from year to year, or do you mix it up?
I go with how I'm feeling. There's no hard and fast rules except that one about having to have salad.
12.) Is Thanksgiving a religious or secular holiday in your home?
I think it's both. We celebrate family (secular) and we definitely thank God for our blessings.
13) Share one Thanksgiving tradition.
I have no Thanksgiving traditions. Unless you count thanking God for my blessings.
14.) Share one Thanksgiving memory.
When I lived in Chicago, I didn't go home for Thanksgiving because I was on a budget that didn't afford trips home. So I would cook Thanksgiving dinner for any of my friends who also couldn't make it home. One year, my friend Scott, my friend Amy, and I had Thanksgiving. There was far too much food to all fit on the table and we pulled up a coffee table and filled that full of food too. We ate and drank wine and laughed ourselves silly for hours. It was the Thanksgiving that taught me that friends can be a family too.
15.) Name 5 things your are thankful for.
-my very sweet and oh so sexy husband who I love very much.
-that my stepdad is going to be just fine.
-that my baby sister Super G. is a math teacher and that she helps me with my homework all the time.
-my very supportive family.
-that I have everything I really need.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Pumpkin Rice Pudding

Inspired by those Tuesdays with Dorrie girls who have inundated the Internet with their chocolate and vanilla rice puddings, I have made some Pumpkin Rice Pudding. It's really good. Comforting and homey. It makes the snow that nailed us again last night seem not too bad. This rice pudding also isn't nutritionally defunct. There's pumpkin and that adds some really good vitamins. It is a vegetable after all. I made it with 1% milk instead of whole milk and there's no butter in it. I'm not sure if there's usually butter in rice pudding, but anytime I don't cook with butter it could be seen as a lighter meal.

And now there's some leftover pumpkin puree in the fridge. Which will always remind me of the time my sister M. came home after work and reached for the pumpkin in the fridge thinking it was leftover sweet potatoes. The next morning she told us that the sweet potatoes we made for dinner were really bland. We laughed pretty hard once we figured out what she was talking about. We had baked sweet potatoes with dinner. So now every time I put pumpkin in a container in the fridge I giggle and think of M.

Pumpkin Rice Pudding

5 cups 1% milk
1/2 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup canned unsweetened pumpkin
1/3 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla

Heat the milk, rice, pumpkin, sugar, cinnamon stick, and salt in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tiny bubbles form around the edge of the pan and steam rises.

Reduce heat to low and gently cook, uncovered, for about an hour and rice is tender and pudding is thick. Stir frequently (with a wooden spoon with a flat bottom if you have one.)

Beat the egg with a fork in a small bowl. Spoon some of the pudding into the egg. Slowly add this egg mixture to the pudding, stirring constantly and keeping the heat low. Cook for 1 to 2 more minutes, or until the pudding thickens some more.

Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Cool slightly before chilling completely.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Country Lima Beans

Call me nutty, but all week I've been craving baked beans. I even went on line and starting searching for good baked bean type recipes. This week I was determined to make some kind of baked beans for Legume Wednesday. Then I got sort of sidetracked playing Scramble in Facebook. It's like playing Boggle. Remember Boggle where you have to shake the thing up and you get a grid of letters and you have to write down all the words you can find where the letters are all connected? My sister M. is a whiz at it. I am not. But I find it far more addictive than solitaire (which any given day you can find my mom playing when she's not quilting or sewing or blogging.)

So while working my way through some of the three pound bag of tortilla chips that we got as part of our Costco bounty and we've been nibbling on pretty steady for the last 2 weeks, I decided I didn't want a sweet baked bean recipe. I wanted something warm and comforting and mushy, but not sweet and still really tasty. Et VOILA! I found these lovely Country Lima Beans from the good people at Cooking Light. Whew! I sort of just happened to have big dried Lima beans in my bean cupboard and I didn't actually have to go out and buy any ingredients. Which undoubtedly would have taken away from my Scramble playing time...

Country Lima Beans

2 cups dried large Lima beans
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 bacon slices, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, finely chopped
3 1/2 cups water
2 Tbsp butter, softened

Sort and wash beans; place in a large Dutch oven. Cover with water to 2 inches above beans; cover and let stand 8 hours or overnight. Drain the beans. Return beans to pan.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

Cook bacon slices in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan with a slotted spoon; set bacon aside. Add onion and carrot to drippings in pan; saute 5 minutes or until golden. Add onion mixture, bacon, 3 1/2 cups water, and butter to bean mixture in Dutch oven; stir well. Cover and bake at 300 degrees for 2 1/2 hours or until beans are tender. Stir every half hour adding more water if necessary and adding salt and pepper in final half hour.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hot Chocolate

Because when I woke up it looked like this outside...

and it hasn't melted.

I'm thinking I might have to declare the rosemary bush a loss, but I have some good ideas from Jennie at Straight From the Farm about how maybe to keep it going all winter. I'm also wondering how I'm going to get my bulbs in the ground. We don't usually get lake effect snow, so getting this much snow this early was a touch of a surprise. The nearest "big" city got 6 inches, but I'm thinking we got maybe 4.

I get to drive the 40 miles to school soon and I haven't wormed up yet. So I made myself this yummy hot cocoa and I should be warm in no time! And the nice thing about this particular recipe besides the hint of cinnamon is that I don't have to choose between enjoying a cup of hot cocoa OR eating. It's fairly low calorie so I can do both. Yay!

Hot Chocolate
adapted from Ellie Krieger
serves 1

1 cup milk
1 cinnamon stick
1 Tbsp Hershey's Special Dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp water
15 mini marshmallows

Heat the milk and the cinnamon stick in a small saucepan until just simmering. In a mug, combine the cocoa, sugar and water and stir to make a paste. Remove the cinnamon stick from the milk. Pour the milk into the mug and stir to mix well. Add the vanilla extract and stir. Place as many marshmallows as you like in the hot chocolate and eat the rest.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Ciabatta (poolish version)

Today, I'm mighty thankful that there is an offshoot of the Cleveland Public Library in the county north of me and that I get to check books out of it. See it has a pretty extensive cookbook selection that serves as a happy compromise (most of the time) between me wanting to buy new cookbooks and the Brain wanting me not to buy new cookbooks all the time. Really. I haven't bought a new cookbook in months. Which is good, because really our cozy little house doesn't have room for more cookbooks. So this week I went up to the library and found a book that I've asked for for Christmas. Yes, I get my letter to Santa out WAY early.

The book I checked out is Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. So why did I check it out if I want it for Christmas? Well, because I have his Whole Grain Breads and frankly, it intimidates me and I was nervous that this book might be too difficult for me. Although the more bread I make, the less nervous I get. And I am now happy to report, I REALLY want this book for Christmas. Especially because I followed the advice of my absolute favorite alternative baker Speedbump Kitchen (I so love love love her blog and it's a tremendous resource for anyone dealing with an allergy) who told me that I can get instant yeast at GFS. Hooray! I now have instant yeast! (She also told me about Peter Reinhart's Pizza book and I want that too. And a pizza stone. Oh the list really could be endless...)

So the nice thing about The Bread Baker's Apprentice is that it's very good for semi-obsessive compulsive people like myself who happen also to be sort of science geeks and math nerds. The directions are very explicit. Well except for the sticky dough versus tacky dough comments. I really don't understand the difference. But I followed the directions and have eaten some mighty delicious Ciabatta bread. Okay, maybe I've eaten more than necessary. Maybe I should stop eating it so that the Brain can taste it.

And yes, it's a long recipe. And you might want to go check it out at your local library, or buy the book so that you can see the photos and learn in detail about what specifically to do.

Ciabbata Bread

2 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
1 1/2 cups water at room temperature
1/4 tsp instant yeast

Stir together flour, water, and yeast in a mixing bowl until all of the flour is hydrated. The dough should be soft and sticky and look like very thick pancake batter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours, or until the sponge becomes bubbly and foamy. Immediately refrigerate it. It will keep for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.

3 1/4 cups poolish (all of the recipe previous)
3 cups unbleached bread flour
1 3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
6 Tbsp water, lukewarm (between 90 and 100 degrees F.)
cornmeal for dusting

1. Remove poolish from refrigerator 1 hour before making the dough to take the chill off.

2. To make the dough, stir together the flour, salt, and yeast in a 4 quart mixing bowl. Add the poolish and the 6 Tbsp of water. Mix in a stand mixer on medium speed with the paddle attachment for 5 to 7 minutes, or as long as it takes to create a smooth, sticky dough. Switch to the dough hook for the final 2 minutes of mixing. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. You may need to add additional flour to firm up the dough enough to clear the sides of the bowl, but the dough should still be quite soft and sticky.

3. Sprinkle enough flour on the counter to make a bed about 8 inches square. Using a bowl scraper or spatula dipped in water, transfer the sticky dough to the bed of flour and dust the top liberally with flour patting the dough into a rectangle. Wait 2 minutes for the dough to relax. Coat your hands with flour and lift the dough from each end, stretching it to twice its size. Fold the dough over itself, letter style, to return it to a rectangular shape. Mist the top of the dough with spray oil, again dust with flour, and loosely cover with plastic wrap or a food grade plastic bag.

4. Let rest for 30 minutes. Stretch and fold the dough again the same as step 3; mist with spray oil, dust with flour, and cover. Allow the covered dough to ferment on the counter for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. It should swell but not necessarily double in size.

5. Prepare two baking sheets by lining them with parchment paper, spraying with oil and dusting with cornmeal. Carefully remove the plastic wrap from the dough and proceed to shape the dough. Using a pastry scraper that has been dipped in water, divide the dough into 2 or 3 rectangles, taking care not to degas the dough. Sprinkle the dough generously with more flour and, using the scraper to get under the dough, gently lift each piece from the counter and then roll it on both sides in the loose flour to coat. Lay 2 loaves on one baking sheet and the third on the other baking sheet. Gently fold each piece of dough, from left to right, letter style into and oblong about 6 inches long.

6. Proof for 45 to 60 minutes at room temperature, or until the dough has noticeably swelled.

7. Prepare a hearth oven by placing an empty heavy duty pan on an upper rack and a baking stone or baking tiles on a lower rack. If you don't have a baking stone or tiles, you can bake on a baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.

8. Generously dust a peel or the back of a sheet pan with cornmeal and very gently transfer the dough pieces to the peel or pan, using the pastry scraper if you need support. Lift the dough from each end and tug the dough out to a length of 9 to 12 inches. If the dough bulges too high in the middle, gently dimple it down with your fingertips to even out the height of the loaf. Slide the 2 doughs (or bake one at a time if you prefer) onto the baking stone (or bake directly on the sheet pan.) Pour 1 cup hot water into the steam pan and close the door. After 30 seconds, open the door, spray the side walls of the oven with water, and close the door. Repeat twice more at 30 second intervals. After the final spray, turn the oven setting to 450 degrees F. and bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the loaves 180 degrees, if necessary, foreven baking and continue baking for 5 to 10 minutes longer, or until done. The bread should register 205 degrees F. in the center and should be golden in color (but the flour streaks will also give it a dusty look). The loaves will feel quite hard and crusty at first but will soften as they cool.

9. Transfer the bread from the oven to a cooling rack and allow to cool for at least 45 minutes before slicing and serving.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cranberry Merlot Sorbet

By now, you are probably a little bit tired of reading the number of things I'm grateful for. So I won't dwell on telling you why I'm grateful that in order to go to Target, or Meijer's, or Starbucks in the "big" city in the county north of me I have to pass farmland, one herd of sheep, and two herds of cows. I just am. It makes me happy.

What I will elaborate on is that I was reading an article a couple days ago about stress and gratitude. I can't seem to find the article anymore so I may have read it in the line at the grocery or in the doctor's office. But the point is that it is apparently impossible to be both stressed out and grateful at the same time. I thought it was an interesting idea and I'm thinking it's been working in my life. But don't worry, I won't keep posting what I'm grateful about. That could be a bit much. I did manage to find a similar article on the web, it's a little old, but interesting none the less. Check it out here.

Another reason to be grateful is that Trader Joe's sells a pretty cheap, ($3 if you want to travel all the way to Cleveland), but drinkable wine called Charles Shaw (Two Buck Chuck for those in the know). This wine, in the Merlot variety, really sent my cranberry sorbet over the moon! Somehow a Dinner of Giving Thanks doesn't seem right without the cranberry in it somewhere. I admit it. I love the jellied cranberry stuff that comes out in the shape of the can. But I just didn't feel like eating the leftovers of it. Besides I tried the cranberry sorbet out of The Ultimate Ice Cream Book for a Christmas dessert a while back and while it was tasty I wanted to take it up a notch. So I followed Bruce Weinstein's instructions for the Spiced Cranberry Sorbet and then added my good buddy Chuck to give it a zing. Wheeee! Yummy this is good. It's something to be grateful for.

Cranberry Merlot Sorbet
adapted from The Ultimate Ice Cream Book

1/2 pound fresh cranberries (about 2 cups)
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 cups Merlot
1 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
zest of 1 lemon

Place all ingredients in a large heavy saucepan. Stir over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture comes to a simmer. Continue to cook for 2 minutes or until the cranberries pop and begin to soften. Remove from the heat and allow the cranberry mixture to cool slightly.

Puree in a blender. If necessary, do this in 2 batches. Pass the puree through a sieve to remove the skins. The puree will be thick and may need to be pushed through using a wooden spoon. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Stir the chilled mixture and then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mini Pumpkin Muffins

I am thankful that fall is here and the holiday season is approaching. I am looking forward to the cookie baking, the caroling, the general feelings of goodwill, and gifts are fun too. But right now what's making me happy is the preparation for the season. See, the Brain and I made our semi-annual trip to Costco this weekend. We picked up a 50 pound bag of flour.

And loads of butter, chicken, broth, canned goods, a 3-pound bag of tortilla chips, and many many other foodstuffs. Oh and a 50 pound bag of sugar.

For a while, I delighted in my savvy bulk shopping. The savings on the 3 dozen eggs, 12 pounds of butter, the flour and the sugar alone came to more than $25. And I make enough Christmas cookies that I know the savings will be realized. As I was admiring the bounty of our Costco trip, it occurred to me that my mother was right. (She should be happy to hear that.) My kitchen needed some serious organizing. SO I spent the better part of Sunday and today making my kitchen cabinets work for me. Seriously. I pulled everything out of the cabinets and sorted according to "keep" "store elsewhere" and "must go" piles. The "store elsewhere" have been packed in plastic bins in the basement and the "must go" are probably going to stay in the garage until the Brain decides he's ready to let them go. The rest of the stuff went back into the cupboards. And now I have a very nicely organized kitchen.

See how shiny the counters are? And seriously my stove is probably 30 years old, but you can't tell anymore thanks to Mr. Magic Eraser.

My stepdad is thankful for these Mini Pumpkin Muffins. They really were delicious. He took the rest of them home with him. Which turned out to be a very good thing. I was having trouble resisting their pumpkiny goodness. And it was so easy just to pup them like candy.

Mini Pumpkin Muffins
adapted from Cooking Light

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2/3 cup canola oil
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°.
Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 7 ingredients (through nutmeg) in a large bowl; make a well in center of mixture. Combine canola oil, eggs, and pumpkin in a medium bowl; stir with a whisk until smooth. Add to flour mixture, stirring just until moist.

Spray mini muffin tins and scoop batter into cups. Bake until a toothpic inserted in one mini muffin comes out clean, about 20 minutes or so. Turn out onto rack to cool.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Honey Sesame Crescents

I'm thankful for those wonderful days in fall when the sky is blue and the sun is shining and it itsn't quite so cold outside. These days are perfect for some heavy duty house cleaning. So today I got all the windows washed. Now it's like that comercial on TV where the husband is snoozing in his easy chair and the wife washes all the windows and he wakes up and thinks he's in the wrong house. Of course, the problem arises when I moved the furniture to get to the window then I felt the need to dust. Or pull all the dead leaves off the plants. Or sweep, vaccuum and change the sheets. I will be especially thankful if my husband doesn't have a heart attack when he sees how clean the house is!

I'm also thankful on these bright and sunny falls days that I get to appreciate all the beauty of the colored leaves. And how nice it feels to have the leaves crunch underfoot.

The Dinner of Giving Thanks also had a lovely bread basket. I made the lavash crackers from that Daring Baker Challenge. This time I did manage not to eat them all by myself. Yay! I also made these really good Honey Sesame Crescents. I like crescent rolls and the idea of whole wheat sesame ones intrigued me. I thought they were really good and they weren't too difficult to make. I made them the day before though because they do take some rising time.

Honey Sesame Crescents

3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp lukewarm water
1/4 cup (3 oz.) honey
3 Tbsp (1.5 oz.) unsalted butter cut into 4 pieces
1 large egg, separated
1 1/2 tsp dark sesame oil
2 cups (6.75 oz.) whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 cups (6.375 oz.) unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp salt
Heaping 1/2 cup (1 1/4 oz.) dried potato flakes
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1/3 cup sesame seeds

Heat 2 Tbsp water to 100°F and add the yeast. Allow to proof for 5 minutes. Mix the yeast mixture with the rest of the water, honey, butter, egg yolk, oil, flours, salt, and potato flakes by hand or in a mixer until you have a fairly stiff dough. Cover and allow the dough to rise until it's quite puffy, though probably not doubled about 1 to 2 hours.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Gently deflate the dough, and transfer it to a lightly greased work surface. Divide the dough into 3 pieces. Roll each piece into a 9-inch round, about 1/2 inch thick. Brush the rounds with the egg white mixed with 1 Tbsp water. Then sprinkle each round with a generous 1 Tbsp sesame seeds. Cut each round like a pie into 6 wedges. Roll up each wedge, beginning at the wide end, and then curve the ends in to form a crescent shaped roll.

Place the rolls on the prepared baking sheets. Brush them with more beaten egg white, and sprinkle with the remaining sesame seeds. Cover and let the rolls rise in a warm place until they've puffed a bit but are definitely not doubled in size, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. Don't let them rise too long; If they do, they'll uncurl in the oven. Toward the end of the rise, preheat the oven to 350°F.

Uncover and bake the rolls until they're a light golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove them from the oven. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yukon Gold & Sweet Potato Mash

Today, I'm ridiculously thankful that this man is our president.
I'm thankful that America rose up and made such a historic election and that we are sending a message to the world that hillbillies do not represent America. I am looking forward to a year of eloquent and intelligent speeches that do not include the words: dang it, doggone it, and ya know. And that's all the politics I'm going to give you.

I am also thankful for mashed potatoes in any form. When I was little, mashed potatoes were probably my favorite food. We would go to my Grandma and Papa's house for a holiday with my 19 cousins and 13 aunts and uncles and I would sit by my godfather, Uncle T., and respond to his question about how much potatoes I would like with the ubiquitous "two scoops please!" I think I may have had potatoes confused with raisin bran. Which would explain my gently expanding waistline.

As an adult, I find that I love the combination of mashing sweet potatoes and regular potatoes. The nice thing about this recipe too is that it still has that yummy factor without the thousands of extra calories that potatoes made with sour cream and heavy cream and tons of butter have. Don't get me wrong, those kind of potatoes are fabulous too, but remember my ever expanding waistline? These potatoes are delicious without the two scoops of guilt that comes with traditional mashed potatoes.

I'm also thankful that M. peeled the potatoes and sweet potatoes!
Isn't she pretty?
Yukon Gold & Sweet Potato Mash

1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks
1/2 cup low-fat milk
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp brown sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Place potatoes and sweet potatoes in a large saucepan and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until very tender when pierced with a fork, 20 to 25 minutes.

Drain the potatoes, then mash in the pan to get the desired consistency. Place milk and butter in a small bowl and microwave on High until the butter is mostly melted and the milk is warm, 30 to 40 second. Stir the milk mixture, sugar, salt, and pepper into the mashed potatoes until combined.

Obama photo from here.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Maple Glazed Carrots

I am thankful because today I get to express my wishes and desires for the direction of this beautiful country. I get to stand up and say this is what I want and this is what's important to me. For the first time ever, I carefully went through and looked up each candidates position. Well, okay not all the candidates. I didn't look up those people from the Green Party, the Socialist Party, or Ralph Nader. And I overlooked the Ohio Supreme Court people by accident. And then there were three separate people on my ballot that were somehow peripherally people I knew. My breakfast buddy A's mother-in-law, another lawyer's dad, and a friend of the family's brother were all running for things, one Republican, one Democrat, and one Independent (sorry, my town may be the county seat and twice the size of Wasilla, but it's still pretty small). But, other than that I made informed decisions. I looked up who was running for sheriff. I looked up the issues. I listened to both sides and I thought about things and I made decisions for myself and I VOTED. This is a truly great country that we get the chance to vote. And for that I'm thankful. And if when tonight is over, Barak Obama gets elected I'll be even more thankful. That's right, I've voted for Mr. Obama. It's done. So none of your political arguments are going to change that. Or those damn robo-calls. Man those are annoying.

What's most important is that YOU actually make an informed decision about what's important to you and you go out there and wait in line and vote too. And besides if you take one of these stickers to Ben and Jerry's, they'll give you a free ice cream. That's something to be thankful for. Especially if your nearest Ben and Jerry's isn't hours away.

These lovely Maple Glazed Carrots were part of my Dinner of Giving Thanks. They were super easy and completely delicious. And yes, I just ate all of the leftovers for lunch. I might have to make these again...

Maple Glazed Carrots
from Real Simple

3 pounds carrots, sliced 1/4 inch thick on the diagonal
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
Kosher salt and black pepper

In a large skillet, combine the carrots, syrup, butter, 1/3 cup water, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper.
Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, stirring once, until the carrots are tender and the liquid has reduced to a glaze, 12 to 15 minutes. (If the carrots are tender before the liquid has thickened, uncover, increase heat to medium-high and cook until the liquid forms a glaze.)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pecans

So what exactly am I thankful for? Besides my happy family and my hunk of a husband? Well, today I'm thankful the brakes and headlights are good on my trusty Ford Focus. I'm thankful for my eye-foot coordination. And I'm thankful for the 4 feet of pavement that separated me from a pretty big male deer (it had horns) that happened to be standing in the middle of the road. It wasn't crossing the road. It was just standing there. Like it was suicidal or something. I hyperventilated for the next 10 miles, but I'm very thankful. Whew.

These Brussels sprouts are also something to be thankful for. It was kind of funny because my mom kept raving about them and how sweet they are. And my sister told me on the way out that if they were cooked that way at home she might actually eat them. I think that's massive praise considering M. is not a fan of vegetables in general. And even better these are a no-fuss vegetable dish.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pecans
courtesy of Real Simple

2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1 cup pecans, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper
(the original recipe called for 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped, but I seem to have forgotten to add them. oops!)

Heat oven to 400 degrees F. On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss the Brussels sprouts, pecans, oil, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper. Turn the Brussels sprouts cut side down. Roast until golden and tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

First Annual Dinner of Giving Thanks!

Today was the First Annual Dinner of Giving Thanks. It was delicious. My mom and step dad, my sister M., and Grandma joined the Brain and me for dinner. I've decided this is going to be an annual event on the first Sunday in November. It works out good because it's smack in between the Canadian Thanksgiving and the United States Thanksgiving, and after all Canada is just across the lake from us. (Which would give me foreign relations experience, except I can't see it from my house.) But I digress.

I liked this way better than holding a Thanksgiving dinner. Thanksgiving is my second favorite holiday. Number one is Christmas. My third favorite would be my birthday and there are only 68 shopping days until then. But this was better than Thanksgiving itself because there's no drama about having to invite family. Whatever family was available could come. Maybe next year I'll invite friends. Mom was put to work making gravy and bringing a pie, but there wasn't any rules about having to have cranberry sauce or sweet potato marshmallow casserole. I figure we'll get all those traditional side dishes when we go off to the real Thanksgiving dinner. And I'll have recipes in the next posts.

But doesn't it beg the question that shouldn't we have dinners of giving thanks regularly? Shouldn't we stop and take a moment to realize how fortunate we really are? It's not necessary for us to cook a turkey (although I do love the leftovers) and get dressed up and drink heavily and endure having to be around family (I'm speaking in generalities here and not directing the remark at any of my family in specific). But really when the economy is so bad and so many people have lost their jobs and are facing dire situations, wouldn't it be a good idea to sit down and think about what a multitude of good things we do have?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Thanksgiving Cupcakes

So today is the last day to get a cupcake in for October's Cupcake Hero: Squash. So I made pumpkin spice cupcakes with molasses cream cheese frosting and toasted pecans. That would make far too long of a name. So I'm calling them Thanksgiving Cupcakes because on Sunday, in my never ending quest for turkey leftovers, I'm having my mom and stepdad, sister M., and Grandma down for a Dinner of Giving Thanks. Dinner of Giving Thanks should not be confused with Thanksgiving Dinner. This is just a small dinner with a big turkey so that I can have my favorite November lunch: A turkey sandwich on white, nutritionally negligible, bread, with Miracle Whip. Yes, it's plain. It's also the only time of the year where I will buy either Miracle Whip or fluffy white bread. I'm so excited.

Oh my, I've gotten way off track here.

So my little cupcakes. It's been sort of a hellish week. I've had something due in every class. One class I had a test AND a paper. So yesterday afternoon, the project due in that class was something we were doing in class, I whipped up these cupcakes. They were yummy! The molasses complimented the pumpkin cupcake and the toasted pecans just took it over the top. My class really enjoyed them.

Meanwhile the Brain stayed home and passed out Halloween candy. Why would our little town, and lots of other little towns across the Ohio, celebrate Halloween on the 30th? Because the 31st is a pagan holiday and they don't want to celebrate it. Does this make sense to anyone? I celebrate Christmas on the 24th. Does that mean I'm not celebrating Christmas? Ugh.

Thanksgiving Cupcakes

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
3/4 cup Trader Joe's Pumpkin Butter
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 16 muffin cups with paper liners.

Mix together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves in a small bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer beat the butter until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla and pumpkin butter. Add the eggs one at a time and allowing each one to be absorbed before adding the next one. Beat in the milk. Then slowly add the dry ingredients, making sure they are fully incorporated.

Divide the batter evenly among cupcake wells. Bake for about 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center shows a few moist crumbs. The center should also spring back when lightly pressed.

Cool pan on rack for 5 minutes, then remove cupcakes to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Molasses Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 oz. package cream cheese
3 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp molasses
4 cups powdered sugar

Beat together the cream cheese and butter. Beat in the molasses. Slowly add the powdered sugar. If the consistency is to soft, add more powdered sugar.

1/2 cup pecan chips

Place the pecans in a dry pan over moderate heat. Toast the pecans just until they start to smell.

Frost the cooled cupcakes with molasses frosting. There will be leftover frosting. Sprinkle cupcakes with toasted nuts.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Daring Bakers do Pizza!

This month our lovely Daring Baker Challenge was hosted by Rosa of Rosa's Yummy Yums. Rosa picked Peter Reinhart's Pizza Dough. Go check out Rosa's Yummy Yums for the recipe and the story behind why she picked it. I found this recipe to be not too difficult. Of course finding instant yeast is just not happening here in rural Ohio. You'd have a better chance of spitting and hitting a political candidate. Not that I'm advocating spitting on political candidates. But I digress, I substituted active dry yeast instead of the instant and proofed it in 2 oz of the water (which I'd heated to 100°F.). It worked out just lovely. Oh yeah, and I cut the recipe in half because we simply don't need that much pizza floating around our happy little family of 2.

And I did try tossing it. (look an action shot!)
But I had a hard time with the catching it part.
And taking a photo of it. This would be my kitchen after some pizza dough went flying through the air.
And because I wanted something a little upscale and I figured the Brain (and his secretary) would like "normal" pizza, I decided that mini pizzas would be best. The Brain (and his secretary) got sausage, green pepper, and mozzarella with roasted tomato sauce.
I got a Parmesan, olive oil, kosher salt, and cracked pepper pizza that was supposed to get a salad on top, but I ate it in the car on the way to school instead. Just a little itsy bitsy note though, Parmesan doesn't need more salt. But overall it was tasty.
And I also made myself this pizza, with Trader Joe's goat brie, honeycrisp apple slices, and a sprinkling of Kraft caramel bits. It was super good! I may make this pizza dough recipe again just to make this particular pizza!
Overall I would say the pizza was tasty. But I am more of a thick crust than a thin crust kind of pizza gal. I like my pizza to have some chew and bread to it. Although I can see that this thin crust has it's advantages in some types of pizza and judging from the Brain's lackluster response to it, we'll be making my regular thick crust pizza dough more often.

Make sure you check out all the other Daring Bakers to see what kind of pizza they made!