The Queen of All Bread Recipes
July 25, 2009, 9:43 pm
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I am a carb fiend. Pasta, bread, sweets…Anything carb-related brings me incredible amounts of joy. Bread is one of those things that took me a long time to get right, and I’ll be the first to admit I still have nights where I am just OFF. You know, you did everything the recipe said and it STILL didn’t work out right. I get those weekly, I think.

A really good white bread recipe is a thing of beauty. It’s substantial enough to hold a serious array of meats/cheeses/veg in it, but still mild enough in flavor to not be competing. But it can’t be that mushy sawdusty store-bought crud. This stuff is more than tasty enough to just butter and toast it, you know?

White Bread

From Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan (should make two substantial loaves)

  • 2 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • approx. 7 cups bread flour or unbleached all-purpose
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, at room temp.

Pour half a cup of that warm water into  a bowl, sprinkle in the yeast and sugar and whisk to blend. Let it sit there until frothy, about five minutes.

Add the remaining two cups of water and approx. 3 1/2 cups of the flour to the yeast. Mix carefully, by hand or with mixer, making as little a mess as you can. I tend to cover my counters at this point. Going slowly, add the other 3 1/2 cups and mix until it comes together into a shaggy dough. If it’s still a little too liquid-y, add a little more until it comes together. This is where I add the salt and butter, then begin the kneading process. Some people prefer to let the mixer do the work, I actually enjoy doing it by hand! Lightly flour an area of your countertop and knead for 10 minutes or so, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Set a timer if you need to, once you’ve seen properly kneaded dough once you’ll probably be able to eyeball it. If you do it in a mixer, it will take about half the time.

Oil a large bowl and place your gorgeous dough ball into it. Roll the ball around a little to cover every surface with oil and then cover the entire bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Leave it alone until it doubles, an hour or so.

After the first rise, punch it down and shape into loaves/buns/etc. If you want a sandwich style loaf, this will fill two 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 loaf pans nicely. I managed to get a sandwich loaf and half a dozen buns out of one batch. Cover your loaves with plastic wrap again and let them, you guessed it, double in size again. Try for about 45 minutes. While they’re rising, preheat your oven to 375.

Once the loaves have risen, stuff them in the oven for 35-45 minutes. They’re done when they’re golden brown and sound hollow when you thump them with your finger. Take them out, turn them out of the pans and let them cool. Resist the urge to cut into them until they’re completely cooled, please. (I know its difficult, I swear.) They’ll keep for a few days in a brown paper bag, but I can’t imagine them not being eaten before then! They’ll also freeze well in an airtight container for up to a month or so.



Lavender Double Vanilla Ice Cream with Dark Chocolate and Pecans
July 18, 2009, 10:03 pm
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I have really got to think of a catchier name for this stuff. Any suggestions?

I’ve been sort of consumed with the idea of a food application for lavender ever since I realized that people really DID eat it. And I just happen to live in an area known for growing it, so the farmer’s market is full of it. I got this bunch the size of my admittedly impressive skull for all of three dollars the other week and I’ve just been put-putting around trying to decide what to do with it. I’ve come across far more esoteric applications for it, but this seemed a safer bet. Something sweet, something with other flavors to balance it. While I have been known to shove a flower into my mouth here and there, I didn’t think anyone else would be interested.

The general consensus was “HIT!”, with people who weren’t made aware of the lavender just saying there was something really interesting they couldn’t place, and sort of an “Ahhh!” when I told them. I was initially concerned the lavender would be a little overpowering, but it really mellowed. Next batch I think I’m going to come up with some sort of combination involving olive oil…

Lavender Double Vanilla Ice Cream with Dark Chocolate and Pecans

(From David Lebovitz’s article “Scooped!” in Fine Cooking June/July 2009)

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • salt
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 2 Tbs dried lavender
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped. (Remember to use the split bean and scraped seeds.)
  • 2 tsp. real vanilla extract
  • 4 Tbs dark chocolate, chopped
  • 4 Tbs toasted pecans, chopped

The first step is making your custard, which I was a little terrified of at first. It is genuinely labor-intensive, but isn’t that difficult.

In a medium saucepan, mix 1 cup of cream with your milk, sugar and a tiny pinch of salt. Warm it over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. When the sugar is melted and small bubbles start to form around the edges, add your lavender and vanilla bean/seeds. Cover and remove from heat. Let that sit for at least an hour, checking the strength of the flavor. Like it? Go ahead on with the rest of the process. Not a fan yet? Let it sit a while longer.

Start your ice bath. Fill a large bowl with several inches of water and ice. Set a smaller metal bowl into the ice water, then pouring that last cup of cream into the smaller bowl. Get out your strainer and set it next to it. Whisk your egg yolks in a separate medium bowl.

Go ahead and re-warm your cream mix here, just for a minute or two. With a steady hand, pour half of the warm cream into your egg yolks. Take care to whisk constantly or you’ll end up with curdled yolks. Pour that egg mixture back into your saucepan now, cooking it over low heat. Stir this thing like your life depends on it, not frantically but thoroughly. Scrape the bottom with your spoon while you stir. Do not overheat it, DO NOT boil it, just heat it gently and keep it moving until thick, 4 to 8 minutes. Strain it immediately into your cold cream. Press the bits of lavender and vanilla into the strainer with the back of a spoon to get all of that flavor out. Cool your custard by stirring it over your ice bath, once below 70 degrees or so, add the vanilla extract.

Place your custard in the fridge for a few hours, until it’s completely chilled. Then pour it into your ice cream maker, adding the chocolate and nuts as it churns. Share it with your friends and neighbors, or don’t. I was sorely tempted to keep it for myself!



Dark Chocolate Cherry Monkey Love
July 15, 2009, 9:58 am
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Monkey Love Cake

Monkey Love Cake

Guys, I had huge plans here. I promise you. This was supposed to be a layer cake, a beautiful thing covered with little marzipan monkey carvings. What happened, you ask? (Pretend you’re asking, okay?) Well, only one of the layers came out of the oven intact. And the monkeys? Well three a.m. happened to them. But I feel this conveys what I wanted to convey, albeit messily. And it tastes really good!

So what’s the occasion? 

My baby sister is turning nineteen today. Just saying that makes me feel old! (And how old it must make our parents feel, aaaah!) So, Becca…This is for you. I know I can’t be there, and this can’t be in your face right now, but consider it a long distance tribute.

In your nineteen years on this planet we’ve been through a lot. Some of the situations have been ones where lesser human beings would throw up their hands and say: “Alright dude, good luck.”, and walk. And there might’ve been a time or two when I’ve said those exact words to you, but I never reaaaaaally meant it. 

I remember when they brought you home. I remember your curly little-girl mullet, how I could always make you laugh. I remember when you were convinced my hair was made of gold and I could always trick you into brushing it for me. And I will never forget the first time we left our daughter alone overnight and came back to see the two of you sleeping on the couch, little mirrors of each other. I could have cried, I might have actually. (Not that I’d ever have admitted it in front of you, oh no!)

I know the period of time since you’ve graduated hasn’t been easy, it’s been a rocky time for all of us. I just want you to know these things:

  • Nobody is pulling your chain or kissing your butt when we tell you that you are a genuinely talented artist. You’re really good.
  • We all love you, might even be willing to have a cage match over who loves you more. At least on one of your good days. 😉
  • You have grown into a beautiful woman. Seriously, it takes me aback every time I see you. I forget you aren’t that stubby little girl anymore. (Yes, I know you’re like six inches taller than I am.)
  • Whatever you do with your life, as long as you are happy and fulfilled, we will all be proud of you. I just personally hope it involves tons of travel, so we can see you more often. 😀
  • I love you. Simply, honestly. You are wonderful.

I hope I’ve sufficiently E-embarrassed you. I know you’re upset about not being able to come out this summer, but you are welcome as soon as you’ve got the time and the dough. We’ll keep the couch clear! And until then, I solemnly swear to pick you up some treats at Uwajimaya the next time we’re in the International District! I wonder if they sell Pocky by the pound?

Dark Chocolate Cherry Monkey Love Cake

Modified from a recipe in How to Cook Everything, Mark Bittman

  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 4 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, whites and yolks separate
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup bing cherry puree

Preheat your oven to 350, grease the bottoms and sides of your cake pans. Melt your chocolate over very low heat, stirring gently. When it is melted, add your cherry puree and heat for another minute, stirring all the while.

Cream your butter and sugar with a mixer for 4 minutes, or until really fluffy. Beat in your egg yolks, then vanilla, then your chocolate/cherry mixture. In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder. Mix it into the liquids bowl in thirds, alternating with the milk. Mix until the batter is smooth.

Remove your beaters and clean them. In a clean bowl, beat your egg whites until they reach the soft peaks stage. Fold into your cake batter gently with a spoon. Pour into the pans and bake until a toothpick or other such improvised cake tester comes back clean after poking it gently into the center of your cake. Let it cool for five minutes IN the pan (This is where my layer failure came into play!) and then turn onto a rack to finish cooling. While it’s cooling, go ahead and make your frosting!

Cherry Buttercream Frosting

  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup cherry puree
  • dab of icing coloring, red (optional!)

Beat the butter with your mixer, gradually adding the sugar and alternating with the milk. Mix thoroughly. Mix in the vanilla, puree and salt. If you don’t like the color yet, add a little coloring. If your icing is too thin, add a little more sugar or refrigerate. Too thick? Add a little more milk or even cherry puree.

And yes, Becca, you can certainly demand Mom make this for you. SHE HAS TO LISTEN IT IS YOUR BIRTHDAY AHAHAHA. 🙂



Sriracha-Lime Boiled Peanuts
July 12, 2009, 6:29 pm
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Salty, spicy, yummy!

Salty, spicy, yummy!

One of my strongest food memories of summer as a kid involve peanuts. The kind I grew up eating were simple, but really tasty. Salt, Cayenne-based seasoning. Spicy and delicious! Most of the cooking around our house was my mother’s purview, but a few things belonged solely to my father. At least in my mind. They tended to be really spicy things, something that involved a lot of tinkering, borderline obsessive attention to the spice level. Is it any wonder all my favorite foods make other people sweat?

I decided I wanted to play with some Asian flavors on this batch. Something warm and tangy with a little bit of heat. Absolute success! I had to remind myself that eating something besides peanuts for dinner was probably a good idea.

Sriracha-Lime Boiled Peanuts

  • 1lb raw peanuts, in shells
  • 8oz soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1/4 cup sriracha chili sauce (Feel free to increase this as much as you like)
  • 1 inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
  • handful of fresh cilantro leaves
  • 2Tbsp rice vinegar

As far as recipes go, this one is pretty darn simple. Grab the biggest pot you’ve got on hand and toss in your peanuts. Fill with water, add all your other ingredients. Bring to a boil, then turn it down to a gentle simmer. Keep an eye on your water level and periodically pop out a peanut, unshell and taste. Adjust the seasonings to suit your taste, enjoy the smell as you come to check on it. These are definitely the most fragrant peanuts I’ve ever made. You’ll know yours are done when the shells are pliable and the nuts inside are soft and flavorful. (Mine took about six hours?)

When they’re done, place a generous serving in a bowl and toss with red pepper flakes and another small handful of cilantro leaves. If you have any left over, some people drain theirs and store them in the refrigerator that way, I prefer to store them in some of the cooking liquid. They taste even better the next day that way!



Pecan Maple Bacon Cookies
July 9, 2009, 9:21 am
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Pecan Maple Bacon Cookies

Pecan Maple Bacon Cookies

I made my first version of these cookies while my best friend was visiting from Texas. I was fresh off a trip from Portland, where we’d visited the infamous Voodoo Doughnuts. I think I ate three or four Maple Bacon Bars that visit! I’d previously turned up my nose at the whole concept of sweet and savory combinations, but to be honest I’m not sweets-crazy like some people. I’ll take sour and spicy and salty over a bar of chocolate anyday.

But these? Oh, these are good. The last batch had chocolate chips, which I was out of this time. And I honestly thought the chocolate actually overpowered the bacon a bit. Then I spotted the bag of pecans in my cupboard. GENIUS! (Well, not really. But close? Maybe?)

Pecan Maple Bacon Cookies

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup well chopped pecans
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 lb bacon, cooked and crumbled. (You want bacon with a distinctly smoked flavor, and you want it well cooked. Super crispy.)

Preheat your oven to 375. In a large bowl, cream your butter and sugar/brown sugar until nice and fluffy. Mix in your eggs and maple syrup, beat for another minute or so.

In a separate bowl combine your dry ingredients. Stir to combine well and add in small batches to your large bowl. Beat just long enough to mix the dry and wet ingredients well.

Stir your bacon crumbles and pecans in by hand. Drop spoonfuls onto cookie sheets and bake 8-10 minutes, or till nice and golden. Now go freak out your neighbors, friends and coworkers with your tasty bacon cookies!



My Favorite Potato Salad, Plus: One Big Hunk of Beef
July 6, 2009, 7:18 pm
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Vinaigrette Potato Salad

Vinaigrette Potato Salad

 

To start off, I grew up in the American South. Every potato salad I encountered as a kid was absolutely slathered with a creamy sauce, whether it be mayonnaise based or mustard. (And hoo-boy is that a hot topic right there!) I avoided them whenever possible, taking the smallest possible serving otherwise. 

A few months ago I came across a recipe for a vinegar based potato salad. WHAT? Why had nobody informed me of this before? I’m the girl who currently has twelve varieties of vinegar fighting for a spot in her kitchen cabinets. This would be my potato salad salvation: And it was!

Vinaigrette Potato Salad

  • 5 or so medium Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced thin
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 Tbsp poppy seeds

Cut each potato in half and cook them in a large pot of water, don’t forget the salt! They should be tender in about half an hour or so, just keep an eye on them. Drain and run cool water over them. They should be cool enough to handle in ten minutes or so. You’ll find the jackets should just slip off the potatoes at this point, it’s actually kind of cool! Slice them to a uniform thickness, no more than 1/3 of an inch or so.

Set them aside in your serving bowl and mix your vinegar and sugar in a small bowl. Add the olive oil, onion slices and poppy seeds and mix thoroughly.  Drizzle that over your potatoes, mixing gently. Add your chopped parsley and give it just the slightest stir.  Salt and pepper to taste. Let it sit in the fridge for at least half an hour before serving, but it will do well overnight too!

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I realized recently that for all my talk about being a “recovering vegetarian”, I haven’t posted a lot of meat on here. But you know what? I don’t eat a whole lot of it to begin with! As a family we make a big effort to be both health conscious and ethical about our meat eating. We buy “freezer packs” of meat from a local butcher who gets all his meat from small local farms. Everything is grass fed and from no more than 100 miles from where I’m sitting right now. But that means it’s not cheap, to say the least.

So we treat meat as a side, really. To be savored and enjoyed in small portions. I’m not saying we don’t go out once in a while and indulge in a burger the size of our heads, but that is exactly what it should be: a treat. So to go with our tart little potato salad tonite, I snagged a big hunk of a chuck steak out of the freezer and hit the grill.

I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to steaks. If your meat is good quality, it shouldn’t NEED much more than salt and pepper and a good sear on it to be worth the money. This gorgeous beast got salt, pepper and a little smoked paprika rubbed on each side of him and was stuck in the fridge for an hour or so before I started him on the grill. What a recipe, huh? 🙂 Don’t worry, guys. Later this week I’ll be roasting a whole chicken, something I’ve never quite done to success.



Fire-Roasted Salsa
July 5, 2009, 12:27 am
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IMG_4072(Well, oven-roasted really. But it’s a gas oven, so I can pretend, right?)

We’ve got a cookout to go to in a few hours, and it’s HOT out. I mean, really really hot. Working on 90. And we’ve no air conditioner. Yep, that means we’re lazing about under every fan we’ve got, whimpering like sad puppies. Daytime cooking has ground to a halt. Salads and sandwiches are the order of the day, but I couldn’t handle the thought of showing up to this cookout empty handed or even with something out of a jar. 

I love salsa. Acidic, full of pleasant heat, it is one of my favorite condiments. (The other being Sriracha.) I’d never tried to make it before, but I figured it would be something I could throw together after dark when the heat wasn’t so awful, and it’s something just about everyone with a soul likes. If I’d had more time I’d have made a green version and a fruit version too, but a girl can’t do everything!

Sort-of-Fire-Roasted Salsa

  • 8 tomatoes, sliced in half (Mine were about baseball sized.)
  • 1 medium red onion, sliced in half
  • 2 heads of garlic
  • 1 lime
  • 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 jalapeño peppers
  • cilantro, to taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • olive oil

Believe me, this process is so simple you’ll wonder why you ever buy store bought salsa.  Heat your oven first to about 375. Grab a couple of large baking sheets or baking dishes. Arrange your tomato halves, round end down, in one.  Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.

Take your heads of garlic, chop off the tops and place them in a square of aluminum foil. Add a glug of olive oil on top and seal them. Place them in your other dish. Add the onion halves, peppers and cut your lime in half and add that. (Roasting the lime with everything else was sort of an accident, but it turned it into a sort of lovely lime-goo that just fell into the salsa. And it smelled really good!)

Roast everything together until the skins on your tomatoes are peeling off and the edges of everything are starting to blacken a bit-at least thirty minutes. Take everything out and let it cool to room temp. 

Chop your tomatoes and onions and place them in a large bowl. Squeeze out your limey-goo, being careful of seeds. Unwrap your lovely roasted garlic parcel and squeeze the cloves out of both heads of garlic into the bowl. Depending on how hot you like it, seed one, both or none of the peppers and dice them. Toss those in, but be careful with them. (Yeah, managed to not get aaaaanny on me except a little cut on my finger. Ugh. Wear gloves if you have them.)

Some of you probably hate cilantro. Some of you are fiends for it. Keep in mind the tastes of anyone else you might end up sharing it with, but  go wild if you want to. Give your cilantro a rough chop and add it. Add your vinegar and sugar. Mix everything together and add it in batches to a blender for a short burst on the mix setting. You want some texture!

This will always taste better if you let it sit in the fridge overnight, so do that if you can. But it is absolutely tasty the second its done!