Thursday, December 31, 2009

No Knead Bread Update

It's been months since we bought a loaf of bread.  No knead bread is now part of our regular routine.  I do still vaguely measure the flour and water but otherwise I mostly dump handfuls and dollops of ingredients in the pot. I've found that not preheating the pot avoids too dark a crust and we like to have something sweet in our bread.

If you need encouragement to try it, watch Jacques Pepin make what is the simplest of versions.  His requires a better no-stick pot than I have!

My basic formula is:
  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 2 cups other flour or combination of flours
  • 1 envelope fast-acting yeast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar or other sweet ingredient
  • Other additions as desired
  • 2-2 1/2 cups water
 The basic method:
  1. Stir the chosen ingredients in a large bowl until moistened.
  2. Cover with plastic wrap.
  3. Ignore 6-10 hours.
  4. Stir down.
  5. Re-cover and ignore for another 1-3 hours.
  6. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  7. Flop dough into a greased pot with lid.
  8. Bake 30 minutes with the lid on.
  9. Remove the lid and bake another 20 minutes.
  10. Remove from pan and let cool on a rack or stove element. 
  •  I use King Arthur bread flour.  Not only is it readily available in local grocery stores but it is bromate-free.
  • Whole wheat flour is easily obtained at the grocery store.
  • More unusual flours include semolina flour, rye flour, oat flour, potato flour, graham flour, buckwheat flour, and the like.  These are less likely to be found in grocery stores.  I order from Barry Farms which has an amazing variety of flours.  When I get my order, I transfer the flour from the plastic bags into disposable plastic containers.  I then cut the labels off the bags and tape them to the tops of the plastic containers with transparent packing tape. These stack well and, being translucent, make it easy to see how much I have left of each kind.
Other ingredients:
  • White sugar, brown sugar, molasses, maple syrup, honey, etc.
  • Corn meal, rolled oats, wheat flakes, oat flakes, etc.
  • Dried or finely chopped fresh dill, rosemary, etc.
  • Cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, etc.
  • Chopped walnuts, pecans, almonds, roasted sunflower seeds, etc.
  • Raisins, minced garlic, olives, etc. (Add these wetter ingredients at the "stir down.")
So, each time I make a loaf of bread, I improvise depending on what strikes my fancy.  We love variety.
  • Anadama lemon rye is 2 cups bread flour, 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1 cup rye flour, 1/2 cup corn meal, the zest of a lemon, and molasses for sweetening.  It's also good without the lemon.
  • Sesame seeds go well on a bread made of 3 cups bread flour, 1 cup semolina flour, and white sugar.
  • Dill goes well in bread made with 2 cups bread flour, 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup potato flour and white sugar.
  • 2 cups of bread flour, 1 cup of whole wheat flour, 1 cup of buckwheat flour, 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, and dark brown sugar makes a wonderful grainy bread.
  • Make chewy homemade hamburger rolls by using all bread flour and shaping the dough into rolls to rise after the stir down.  These take less time to bake.
  • Here's no knead cinnamon rolls.
Right now, there's a 1/2 bread flour, 1/2 rye flour dough rising with some spices in it (ground cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger), sweetened with honey.   This should make great toast for breakfast tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Chorizo & Italian Sausage, Olives, Spinach, & Red Pepper Pasta

Our local grocery stores are starting to carry more of what are considered around here "ethnic" items.  In other words, venturing into extensive stocks of Latin American and Asian ingredients.  Yay!  Recently, the local Publix has started to carry fresh chorizo-flavored sausage in addition to their Italian-styled.  This recipe uses one of each to create a salty-peppery Mediterranean flavor akin to sugo alla puttanesca but with sausage instead of anchovies and capers.  It was great made with roasted red pepper sauce and orecchiette (AKA "little ears" pasta)

  • 1 6-inch link Italian flavored fresh sausage, removed from its casing
  • 1 6-inch link chorizo-flavored fresh sausage, removed from its casing
  • 10 oil-cured olives or other strong dark olives, pitted and cut in several pieces
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch squares
  • 1 package of baby spinach, well washed
  • 1/2 cup roasted red pepper sauce, tomato sauce, or spaghetti sauce
  • 2 servings pasta, water & salt
  • 2-4 Tbl. olive oil
  • grated parmesan to garnish
  1. Start the pasta in boiling salted water
  2. In a large sauté pan or skillet large enough to hold all the ingredients (including the pasta), crumble and sauté the sausage.  If the sausage is very greasy, drain.  Otherwise, keep the sausage fat in the pan for flavoring.  If the sausage is very lean, add 1-2 Tbl. olive oil.
  3. Add the olives and red pepper and sauté 2-3 minutes
  4. Add the spinach and a ladle or two of the pasta water.
  5. Sauté until the spinach is wilted.
  6. Add the sauce and heat through.
  7. Drain the pasta and toss it with the other ingredients. 
  8. Drizzle 2 Tbl. of olive oil over the whole and lightly toss again.
  9. Serve with parmesan sprinkled on top.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Portobellos with Sausage Stuffing

We needed a smallish meal to place between the luscious carnivore extravagances of the holidays.  This recipe stretches one link of grocery store Italian sausage to flavor a great meal for two.

  • 2 portobello mushroom caps
  • 1 Italian sausage link (approximately 6" long by 1" diameter)
  • 1-2 shallots, finely minced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup Italian-flavored bread crumbs or plain bread crumbs and Italian herb seasoning
  • 1/2-3/4 cup grated parmesan, divided
  • 1 egg
  • 3-4 Tbl. olive oil, divided
  • romaine lettuce
  • salad dressing
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F
  2. On top of the stove, heat 2 Tbl. olive oil in a largish oven-proof skillet 
  3. Remove the stems from the portobello mushroom caps, taking care not to break the caps, and mince the pieces of stem
  4. Scrape the gills out of the mushrooms with a spoon and discard them
  5. Squeeze the sausage meat out of its casing and break into small pieces
  6. Sauté the sausage meat, onions, garlic, and stem pieces until the meat is done
  7. Add the parsley and sauté just long enough for the parsley to wilt
  8. Remove the meat mixture to a bowl large enough to mix the stuffing, making sure to get as much as possible out of the skillet
  9. Coat the portobello caps inside and out with olive oil and place open-side down in the skillet
  10. Bake for 8 minutes
  11. Let the meat mixture cool and then mix in the bread crumbs, half the cheese, and the egg to make a stuffing
  12. Remove the mushroom caps from the oven and flip them so that the open side is up
  13. Mound the stuffing on top of the mushrooms and top with the remaining cheese
  14. Bake another 15 minutes
  15. Make a salad of dressed romaine lettuce on each plate and place the stuffed mushroom on top.
A complete and satisfying meal!  And it dirties only one pot ... and a knife, the cutting board, a bowl to mix the stuffing and to dress the romaine, ...

Friday, December 25, 2009

Easy Almond Crescent Shortbread Cookies

My mom's recipe for almond crescents made a 5-dozen cookie batch and would require wrestling the stand mixer to the counter. So, I've experimented with 1/2 a batch using the food processor. Makes 1 cookie-sheet full of cookies (2 dozen + a couple).

  • 1/2 + 1/3 cups (5/6 cup)flour
  • 1/2 cup blanched slivered almonds
  • scant 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt (less if you use salted butter or margarine)
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, slightly softened but still colder than room temperature
  • 1/2 cup or as needed powdered sugar
  1. Pulse flour, almonds, sugar & salt in the food processor until the ingredients are well mixed and the almonds are chopped.
  2. Add the stick of butter cut into pieces.
  3. Pulse and whir until it moves past the crumb stage and starts to form a dough.
  4. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°F
  5. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper
  6. Using a knife, cut the dough into about 2 dozen small pieces and roll each into 2 1/2 inch logs and shape each into a crescent.  If some of the cookies are larger than others, pinch off the excess and form the scraps into additional cookies.
  7. Bake 15-18 minutes until golden with slightly browner edges.
  8. Let cool on the paper.
  9. When cool, roll each in powdered sugar.
Over the years, I've found that parchment paper is the solution for great cookies.  I have had lousy luck with cookie sheets and have scraped char off the bottoms of many a cookie.  A layer of parchment solves this problem!  Magic!  Golden brown cookie bottoms!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Haddock and Veggies with Crunchy Bread & Almond Topping

A tasty one-pot oven meal.  Fish with veggies & a tasty stuffing-like topping.

  • 2 haddock fillets
  • 8-10 large mushrooms, sliced
  • 2- 3 carrots, sliced
  • 1-2 shallots, chopped
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh dill, large stems discarded
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 1Tbl. mustard 
  • 1 Tbls. olive oil + olive oil in a spritzer (or cooking spray)
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • 1 cup bread crumbs, divided
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F
  2. In a food processor, whir the shallots, dill, yogurt, 1 Tbl. olive oil, and 3/4 cup bread crumbs to make a lumpy stuffing
  3. Lightly oil a glass lasagna pan or shallow roaster
  4. Layer the sliced mushrooms on the bottom of the pan
  5. Spread the carrot slices on top of the mushrooms
  6. Put the fish on top of the vegetables
  7. Crumble the stuffing and distribute it to cover the fish and vegetables
  8. Sprinkle the remaining bread crumbs over the top
  9. Spritz with olive oil to provide some fat to help the topping brown
  10. Bake 30-40 minutes until topping is golden brown, the fish is flaky, and the veggies are cooked.  
Serve with a slotted spatula to leave behind excess mushroom liquid.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Almond Crescents: Christmas Cookies My Mom Made

Tis the season for cookies!  But I think it would be healthier for me if I wrote about them more than making & eating them.  Everybody grew up with different Christmas cookies.  In some cases, the cookies were similar but the names were different.  My mom's Snickerdoodles were pretty much identical to my friend's mom's Snippernoodles.  (Snippernoodles!  Harrumph.  What a silly name.  Snickerdoodles is obviously a better name. ☺)

So, in the spirit of the season, thought I'd share some from my mom's recipe box. As she will want me to point out, she didn't invent the recipes but the sources are lost to history.

So, here's the first in a series of Christmas cookie recipes: Almond Crescents!  This results in a very short, rich, small but satisfying cookie.  I can smell and taste them as I type.  Such memories!

Ingredients (to yield about 5 dozen cookies):
  • 1 2/3 cups sifted flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup shortening (The recipe, in handwriting that might be my paternal grandmother's, specifies 1/2 Spry shortening, 1/4 butter, and 1/4 margarine but we almost always made them using all margarine.)
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup ground blanched almonds
  • 1 cup confectioner's sugar
  1. Sift together flour and salt
  2. Cream shortening (butter, margarine) with the granulated sugar
  3. Add almonds and flour, mixing well
  4. Chill the dough for 30 minutes or more
  5. Preheat oven to 350°F
  6. Roll the dough into 1/2" diameter rolls, 2 1/2 inches long
  7. Place the rolls on an ungreased cookie sheet and bend to ressemble crescents
  8. Bake 15 minutes and allow to cool on the sheet
  9. When cool, roll in confectioner's sugar
Yummy.  Maybe I will make 1/2 a batch before the season's over ...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ground Nut Soup: Vegan Peanut Butter Soup

Ground nut soup is to grandmothers across Africa what beef stew is across the US.  Every family has its favorite.  Every country from Ghana to Sudan has local variations.  When the ground nut came across the Atlantic, the dish became a Southern classic, peanut soup.  There are no real rules except for the presence of the ground nuts which, in the US, are easily obtained in the form of peanut butter.

Yesterday my vegetarian and vegan friends were here for lunch so I threw together some warm and tasty soup from what was in the cupboards.  I had store-brand all-natural peanut butter on hand, making the flavor a bit milder than soup made with the national brands of peanut butter.   In fact, it didn't taste like peanut butter but rather like nuts.  As with most soups, the proportions are up to you based on taste. 

  • 2-3 Tbl. olive oil
  • A large sweet onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2-3 stalks or inner stalks & heart of celery, coarsely chopped
  • 2-3 carrots, washed & trimmed but not peeled, coarsely chopped
  • 2"-3" knob of ginger root, peeled, trimmed, & finely chopped
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 4-6 cups water, divided
  • 1/2 cup catsup
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 3/4 cup crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 can beans (e.g. kidney beans), drained and rinsed
  • Several springs cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1-2 teaspoons cumin
  • Sea salt to taste
 Note: if you use sweetened peanut butter or tomato sauce instead of catsup, you may want to skip the molasses.

  1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy soup pot.
  2. Over medium heat, sweat the onion, carrots, celery, ginger root, and garlic until the onion is translucent.
  3. Add half the water and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
  4. With an immersion blender or in the food processor or blender, lightly whir the vegetables and water until thick with some chunks of vegetables remaining.  If you don't have the equipment for this step, chop everything more finely at the outset.
  5. Add the remaining water, catsup, molasses, and peanut butter.
  6. Simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, to meld flavors.
  7. Add cilantro, cumin and salt, adjusting the seasonings to taste.
  8. Simmer another 5-10 minutes.
  9. Serve.

    Thursday, December 10, 2009

    5-Minute Pork Cutlets for a 10-Minute Meal

    Here's a very easy and quick meal.  Pork tenderloin can be very dry and bland but cooked quickly it's flavor is enhanced with the butter, salt & pepper.  You could certainly dress this up with a dollop of something.  Roasted red pepper couliFig balsamic sauce?  A dill mustard from the Mustard Museum?  Whatever's at hand.

    • boneless pork tenderloin
    • steam-in-bag frozen vegetables
    • 1-2 Tbl. butter or olive oil
    • Salt & pepper
    1. Cut 1/2-3/4" slices off a boneless pork tenderloin or get boneless loin chops.  
    2. Remove the "silver skin" or other membranes surrounding the pork.  
    3. Pound lightly to make 1/4" thick cutlets.
    4. Preheat a skillet with a bit of butter or olive oil on medium high heat.
    5. Start a steam-in-bag of veggies in the microwave.
    6. Salt & pepper the cutlets
    7. Sauté the cutlets about 2 minutes per side.
    8. Remove the veggies from the microwave.
    9. Serve.
    Ta da! About 5 minutes to prep and 5 minutes to cook.

    Lightweight Jiffy Mix Soup Dumplings

    Having not grown up with dumplings in soup, I'm not really in favor of gummy dumplings.  But after many pleas from hubby, I decided to try a two-step cooking process.  It worked!  The dumplings were moist yet fluffy!

    • Hearty soup.  I used leftover ham & pea soup that I didn't whir with the blender so it had nice chunks of carrot in it. Most any stew will do.
    • Jiffy buttermilk biscuit mix.  Of course you could do homemade biscuits but why when these are so easy and fairly inexpensive?
    • Water for the biscuit mix.
    1. Preheat the oven as indicated for the biscuit mix.
    2. Bring the soup to a boil on top of the stove.  Use an oven-proof pot with enough room to add the dumplings.
    3. Mix the biscuit mix & water as instructed on the box.
    4. With floured hands, roll the dough into 16 balls (similar in size the smallish meatballs).
    5. Flatten each ball to a small 1/2" thick disk.
    6. Drop the disks, one at a time, into the boiling soup, distributing them throughout the surface.
    7. Carefully move the hot pot into the oven and cook as indicated on the biscuit mix box.
    As you drop the disks of dough into the soup, they will sink.  Almost immediately, they will start to float.  By the time you take the soup out of the oven, all the dumplings will have floated and the soup will be covered with a soft layer of light dumplings!

    With preheating & preparations, this takes just 20 minutes to prepare.  Allow a little extra if you need to thaw the soup.  Stick to your ribs good!

    Imprecise & Inexpensive

    Two themes predominate in my approach to cooking. 1. Daily cooking of flavorful food need not be a precise art. 2. You can be an adventurous cook on a budget. Cooking and eating should be fun for both cookers and eaters.