Oct 262016
 

Pumpkin yeast bread

It’s fall and the pumpkin spice must flow. Only, a person can get tired of all the cloyingly sweet applications. Don’t get me wrong: I love the cookies, the quick-breads, the martinis, and the occasional half-the-syrup latte. And the pie! The pie will soon be upon us! After a while though, I yearn for something more savory.

Enter a bread from Whole Foods that I’ve adored for years. It’s savory, but still spiced like familiarity craves, soft, delicious, and divine — utterly divine — as a vehicle for runny egg yolk. The problems are two-fold: a) being from Whole Foods, it’s exorbitantly expensive, and b) they don’t roll it out until Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving!!! Where is the sense in that, I ask?! No one else waits until Thanksgiving to bring out their pumpkin amazingness!

Clearly, it was time for me to take matters into my own hands.

There were plenty of unknowns (what is the hydration of the loaf? How exactly does pumpkin affect the hydration percentage of a dough?) but enough knowns (thank you, ingredient label) for me to get a good start. And to borrow a phrase from my favorite wild-yeast baker, this is bread, not birth control, so it doesn’t have to be perfect while I figure out how to get the recipe just right. I figured out that one cup of pumpkin puree roughly replaces one cup of flour AND one cup of liquid (that was a surprise!) and looked to Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challah for inspiration for a soft-yet-brown-crusted dairy-free loaf.

After plenty of tweaking and enlisting my family and friends (thank you to the Om-nom-sauce family, my mom, Heather, and Crystal) as test-bakers and guinea pigs, I’ve settled upon a loaf that I’ll proudly serve, and which has served to spawn even more inspiration through the endless possibilities of variations. I hope you love this loaf as much as I do!

Pumpkin yeast bread

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Mar 102013
 

Corned beef and cabbage

For years after striking out on my own, I had a dilemma on my hands: being the great-grand-daughter of Irish immigrants, I absolutely love a good corned beef and cabbage on St Patrick’s Day, but I’d be lying if I said I could make a decent one back then. I tried a new cooking method every year, and every year it was the same story: just barely-avoided unmitigated disaster. But really, let’s face it: how could I possibly hope to achieve success when I was starting with a highly-questionable hunk of preternaturally pink meat and (more often than not) throwing it in a pot of water to boil. Of course I was doomed (doomed!) to fail!

But a couple of years ago, someone cut from, well, exactly the same cloth as me posted a recipe on NPR’s Kitchen Window. It was all about how to cure your own beef brisket and included not a small amount of nose-super-high-in-the-air food-snobbery (which I usually try to suppress, but let’s face it, it’s always there) and a hefty amount of embracing the art of cooking with booze. This, I thought to myself, could be the end of my woes!

So, about a week out from the venerable holiday, I set out to find myself a beef brisket — a plain ol’ one that hadn’t been subjected to salt-peter and god-knows-what other chemicals along with the traditional corned beef spice-packet. And it was nearly bloody impossible! It seems that in March, almost all of the beef briskets get processed into corned beef and it can be extremely difficult to find one au naturale (well, as au naturale as super-market beef gets — oh, and there’s that food-snob I was warning you about!). So don’t be afraid to ask the butcher if there are any squirreled away in the back, and don’t be surprised if the butcher tries to hand you a package of corned beef.

So two years ago, I tried this out for the first time. The beef didn’t get to cure for the full week (see: it’s hard to find a beef brisket a week before St Patrick’s Day), but it was still fully delicious. It was also easier to execute than I had ever imagined. I had a group of friends over for dinner and we polished that sucker off. I’m not gonna lie: it was impressive. I had intended to use the left-overs in Reuben sandwiches, but I wasn’t too upset about it since my lack meant that the party had been a success. Last year, we repeated the recipe (though I started looking for briskets much earlier that year) and since I was pregnant at the time, the booze that was in this recipe (which had of course been de-alcohol-ized by cooking) was the only beer I had (sadness!). That year, though, the left-overs were plentiful due to fewer guests and more meat and the Reubens flowed (more on that in a later post). This year’s brisket is already curing on March 3rd and I can’t wait to taste it again. So won’t you join me in forgoing creepy pink meat and finding out how easy it can be to make something utterly superior, even if you’ll be too toasty on Irish Car-Bombs to notice.

Sláinte!

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Mar 082013
 

Irish-American soda bread

This time of year, Irish soda breads start popping up in bakeries everywhere. They are either dry and chalky or delicious and decadent, in which case they obviously contain relatively expensive ingredients, which is pretty improbable in a bread ostensibly born of frugality at the hands of Irish potato farmers. More irritating to me, however, is the fact that most of the loaves you find in bakeries are obviously yeasted, which, I mean, come on, really? It’s soda bread, as in baking soda. Harumph.

So while this recipe is clearly not authentic (why hello there, butter and sugar and eggs! Fancy meeting you here!), at least it makes no pretenses about what it is. It’s not a loaf of yeast bread that has been formed into a boule and slashed (slashed! Just try doing that to a soda bread batter!), and the recipe helpfully includes the descriptor “American,” cluing you into the fact that peasant food it’s not. Authentic it may not be, but honest it surely is.

Irish-American soda bread

Because of that, I like to think that this is a bread that my maternal grandmother would approve of. She was 100% Irish and took delight in her heritage. When I think of the time spent in her house when I was young, the Irish proverbs are one of the first-and-foremost elements in the settings of those memories. So when my Mom was visiting me over St Patrick’s Day in 2008, we decided to honor Muggsy and try several new recipes for the holiday. The results had highs and lows: we swore off ever again making pistachio cookies that had instant pudding in them (they had a really unpleasant mouth-feel) but this recipe became an instant favorite. I always make it along with my corned beef and cabbage and serve it for dessert. The left-overs make an excellent breakfast bread. So, from my Irish family to yours (whether you’re Irish or not), I hope you enjoy this bread and that it makes you feel a little greener this St Paddy’s Day!

(Note: I had been preparing to make this recipe in just a few days’ time when I learned that I’d have to cut out dairy for my daughter’s sake. I was a bit devastated because I’ve literally been looking forward to this bread for months, but not being one to slink away with my tail between my legs, I resolved to adapt it for my new dietary restrictions. I admit that I was skeptical going into the mixing and baking but was very pleasantly surprised when I finally tasted it. It’s a very close facsimile of the original and far exceeded my expectations. If you’re sensitive to dairy, please do give the dairy-free version at the end of the recipe a try and let me know how you like it.)

Irish-American soda bread

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Dec 232012
 

Turkey pot-pie, fresh out of the oven!

The day after Thanksgiving is such a culinary conundrum. You, having just spent three days prepping and cooking food for your Thursday table, are exhausted come Friday. The last thing you want to do is slave over a stove some more. You’re covered for lunch, since you can nosh on turkey sandwiches or, perhaps, a salad composed of your favorite leftovers (which I did again this year), but what do you do when it comes time for dinner? You could indulge your inner child and just have pumpkin pie (topped with your very own bourbon whipped cream, natch), but if you’re sick of sweet stuff, may I suggest a more savory pie?

Rolling out crust for pot pie

Now, you may be rolling your eyes at me since I just acknowledged that the last thing you want to do is slave over a stove, but stick with me because I promise it’s worth it. This dish is in the classic tradition of re-inventing your leftovers into something completely different, and if you’ve already taken certain steps during your Thanksgiving prep, you’ll have shockingly little to do. For example: make two pie crusts instead of just the one that’s required for your pumpkin confection and save it in your fridge and you have a ready-made crust for your pot-pie. Use leftover turkey instead of poaching something anew. Make a couple of extra cups of stock during your Thanksgiving prep, or borrow a couple cups from the turkey stock that’s simmering away on the stove (because you are going to make soup, right?). Cheat and reach for a couple of freezer-veggies, saving you some prep. Yes, there’s a roux. Don’t let that scare you off though, as it’s the easiest roux ever. Banish from your mind the memory of stirring that roux for étouffée for a half-hour straight.

Crust cut-out

So this recipe is an example of a post-Thanksgiving success. In fact, it was so successful, that we’ve decided that it’s a new tradition for us. After all, it’s a home-made gravy chock full of deliciousness nestled under a home-made blanket of pastry goodness, and it’s a way to use your turkey without having to resort to sandwiches. What’s not to love?

And for good measure, here’s the cell-phone-photo I took of the original pot pies (as the other photos were taken from pies made later from left-over components). My Mom cut a “p”-shaped vent-hole for my Dad’s initial and was quite put out that I did boring traditional slits instead of using letters for the rest of them!

Turkey pot-pies!!!

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Dec 192012
 

Mugsy's gingerbread mini-muffins

There are quite a few food associations of mine that are inexorably linked to the holidays: beef burgundy, Danish pastries, sand-tarts (elsewhere called Mexican wedding cookies or Russian tea cookies), and rum cake all come to mind. These gingerbread mini-muffins are certainly make the list as well. This recipe comes to me by way of my maternal grandmother. Grandma (or Mugsy, to everyone else) had a way with baking and was damn good at it (her pie crusts remain legendary), but honestly, she was such a force of sheer kindness and goodness in this world, that her prowess with the oven has been eclipsed in my mind by the warm and gooey feelings that I remember when I think of her. The recipes that she left behind are all that serve to jog my memory in the baking-department.

So I love when I come across memories that have been written down on her recipes. It’s plain that my mom has been eating these spiced delights on or around Christmas every year since she can remember — and thus, they’ve woven their way into most of my memories as well. Sadly, it had been several years since I made them myself, but I found myself with an excellent excuse to dust off tradition and make them again this year (as holiday pot-lucks are an ideal venue for mini-muffins). And even though The Bun won’t be eating them this year, it’ll be nice to know that I started baking them again the year she joined our family.

So here’s to passing a family tradition down to the next generation: perhaps these can find your way into your own family annals too!

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Dec 162012
 

eggnog_2012-12-15_06

Ahh, eggnog. What’s not to love? Aside from the cloying taste and extra-thick unnatural texture, that is. I also want to wail in despair whenever I read the ingredient list, as cheap, low-quality sweeteners are usually the second ingredient and it just goes down-hill from there. Luckily, those issues are easy to remedy by making this holiday treat at home.

I had long wanted to tackle this drink at home, but hadn’t dipped my toes in until this year, when I saw a great write-up on America’s Test Kitchen feed, and inspiration struck. So we headed to the market to get really good eggs, and you can imagine what happened from there.

Yesterday was a very Christmas-y day in our kitchen. I made my family’s gingerbread mini-muffins, and when the process was interrupted (as it invariably is these days) by the baby’s need to eat, The Hubs jumped into action and made the nog. So there were plenty of reasons to be merry in the house, and if you are looking for one to brighten up your own holiday, you can look no further!

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Dec 092012
 

Turkey soup!

If you’re like me, when you’re cleaning up after Thanksgiving dinner, the turkey carcass (with plenty of bits of meat still clinging to the bones) starts to look a lot like opportunity. I am loathe to ever throw away any animal bones: you can make too many delectable things with them (well, really, I’ve only ever made stock with the bones, but you can make so many things with the stock that it totally counts).

I’m also well-known for not thinking that turkey sandwiches are the bee’s knees. Given left-over turkey, there are several other things that I’d rather make with it, and one of them is soup! I have such a proclivity to it and The Hubs has such a proclivity for the sandwiches that we have always ended up in turkey-turf-wars about how the leftovers are going to be used. Not being possessed of two ovens but still needing to make several sides while the sacrificial bird is cooking, we grill our turkey so the birds we buy have to be relatively small so that it can fit on our Weber — hence, there’s not enough turkey to go around for both of our needs and strife ensues. This year, I avoided marital turkey-drama by buying two birds. I was so proud of myself for coming up with a solution to the problem, but then I went and shot myself in the foot by discovering turkey pot-pies, creating yet another need for large amounts of turkey. What’s a cook to do? And don’t you dare suggest I buy yet another bird: it’s not that it’s madness, it that there isn’t enough room in our cooler to brine three of them!

So, without any further adieu, I present a recipe for turkey soup, which is something my family has been making ever since I was a wee one. Like most soups, the ingredient list is more of a suggestion than a rule. It’s also slow-cooker friendly, which we found to be very welcome this year, since, well, y’know how on Thanksgiving Friday you don’t want to cook at all? Well, I kinda screwed that one up big-time by experimenting with the pot-pies, so come Saturday we really super-mega didn’t want to cook, but luckily I had slow-cookered up a big batch of this the night before. Victory, “turkey soup” is thy name.

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Nov 282009
 

Ok, seriously – does anyone actually cook the day after Thanksgiving??? Who isn’t sick of the inside of their kitchen by then? And aren’t the contents of your refrigerator quick to take away any reason for one to turn on the stove (except to reheat leftovers, of course)?
Well, I’ll admit it: I wasn’t as kitchen-adverse this Friday as I have been in the past.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t about to actually cook anything for lunch. The last thing I wanted was a plain turkey sandwich – I was craving something healthy (no surprise there, given the gluttony that took place the day before) and even though my Thanksgiving table is laden with far more veg than most (without having to resort to green bean casserole! Boo-yah!), I didn’t want to just nosh on leftovers. I’m all about re-inventing last night’s food whenever I get a chance, and when I spied the unused greens in my fridge that didn’t quite get turned into a salad with poached pears, candied nuts, gorgonzola, and homemade balsamic vinaigrette, I had my inspiration.

I scooped the spinach into a bowl, tore off chunks of turkey breast, added some leftover roasted butternut squash, topped it off with some juicy pomegranate seeds and toasted pecans, and finished it with a drizzle of shallot-cacao nib vinaigrette that had graced the roasted squash the night before.

Chances are you don’t have those exact ingredients on hand the day after Thanksgiving unless you stole my menu, but no worry, there are plenty of ways to make your own. Try using homemade cranberry sauce instead of pomegranate seeds or perhaps some roasted Brussels sprouts or cauliflower instead of the squash. The point is that you’re only limited by your imagination. Unless you’re like me and you’ve already transformed your turkey leftovers into a steaming pot of delicious soup, chances are you still have plenty of food on hand with which to make your own creation. So go nuts and go fix yourself a salad while you’re waiting for me to get to the really good stuff: the Thanksgiving menu, plenty of food porn, and bread that flowed continually from the oven!

Who would eat a turkey sandwich when this beautiful and delicious gem was an option?
Nikon D50
Oct 262009
 

Today’s post from the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge brings you Artos, a Greek celebration bread. The book includes three versions – the standard bread, a Christmas bread, and an Easter bread. They all use the same basic enriched dough recipe that is flavored with spices, zests, and extracts, but the holiday-specific breads include fruit and nut embellishments that are specific to the season. The Easter bread even features red-dyed eggs atop the loaves.

Even though the rough goal of this group is to do one bread a week, when I realized that I don’t have to work today and that I probably have a lot of trips coming up that will preclude any bread baking at all, I decided to go ahead and press on to bread #2, even though I just baked anadama bread yesterday. The loaf offers you the choice to either use a sourdough starter or a poolish. I do indeed have a cute little seed culture named Zeke that will one day be a starter (stay tuned for that!) and if I had waited to bake until this weekend he could have been used, but since I was feeling antsy I had to go the poolish route. Poolishes are really simple – the hardest part was scaling the 23-ounce formula down to 7 ounces. This is one of the things that I really like about using starters – they offer such a huge flavor payout for what is essentially zero extra work. All they require is a bit of planning ahead and then you let the enzymes and the yeast do all the hard work making your bread delicious!

The bubbly poolish
Nikon D50

So an hour before mixing the dough, I pulled the poolish that I made last night out of the fridge and mis en placed (no, it’s not a verb, but I like to wordsmith) everything and began. I’ve been baking so much these last couple of days that I actually ran out of bread flour, so I threw in a couple of teaspoons of wheat gluten and rounded out the flour’s weight requirement with all-purpose. Disaster averted. But, alas, here’s when things began to get… sticky.

I am normally a pretty tolerant and patient baker, but as I was kneading this dough (or, more accurately, smearing it across the countertop) I kept thinking that a more accurate name would be Greek Frustration Bread. One of the reasons I start out my knead in a machine is so that I don’t end up adding too much flour to try to make up for the stickiness of a freshly-mixed dough, but as I watched the dough resolutely refuse to form into a ball and instead just creep up the hook every ten seconds, it became clear that I was going to need to add more. So I added a little, then a little more, and then before long I was adding amounts of flour that I’ve never had to add to a dough before. The stand mixer was doing such a miserable job of kneading that I honestly thought the dough would be ready faster if I threw the hook across the room, so I took it out and started kneading by hand with a lot of flour, my bench scraper, and a temper that was barely kept in check. I was pretty furious with myself for skipping the autolyse, but it’s pretty clear to me now that even if I had waited 20 minutes after mixing to start kneading, I still would have had to battle sticky, sticky dough.

Sticky, sticky mess, under a blanket of flour
Nikon D50

After kneading for about ten minutes (and adding even more flour), the dough still stuck to my hand when I picked it up and inverted my hand – no gripping involved! This was just the sticky mass of goo resisting the force of gravity – that’s how sticky it was!. Oh, Internet, I tried to get pictures of that for you, but it didn’t work out this time. Before you complain, next time you’re up to your elbows I’d like to see you get this shot without assistance! But I digress.

After adding my entire supply of sprinkling flour (I keep one of those Parmesan/crushed red pepper shakers you see in restaurants filled with bread flour for sprinkling the stuff on the counter – makes it so much easier!) the dough finally became merely tacky instead of sticky, meaning that when I pressed my hand on the dough and lifted it off, the dough would very briefly stick but my would hand came away clean. At this point it passed the windowpane test, so an hour and ten minutes after I initially mixed the dough, I declared victory and squirreled away the dough to ferment.

The dough finally passes the windowpane test
Nikon D50
Finally, tacky (not sticky!), smooth, supple, and elastic!
Nikon D50

Keeping in mind yesterday’s over-ferment, I checked the dough often, but it went the full 90 minutes suggested in the recipe before testing done. The dough was so tacky, however, that it was difficult to test for doneness – if you poked even a wet finger in there, it stuck to your finger when you pulled it out. Now for shaping. The loaf looked huge – and almost every blogger out there commented on its enormous size – so, keeping storage in mind, I decided to divide the dough into two equally-sized boules. The dough shaped beautifully, the top never tearing now matter how tightly I stretched the gluten, and, again, was fully proofed at the end of the recommended time. The dough, covered only in damp kitchen towels, already smelled intoxicating, so I couldn’t wait to find out what it smelled like as it baked.

Proofed boules, about to go in the oven!
Nikon D50

Sure enough, before long, a delicious aroma wafted through the house. It reminded me not so much of bread as it did of Danish pastries, which surprised me not at all because of the common flavors within: nutmeg, lemon (zest in the bread, extract in the pastries), and almond extract. Not that I minded: on the contrary, since Danish pastries are one of my all-time favorite foods, both for taste and for sentimentality’s sake. Because of this delicious smell, I had a very hard time not cutting into them right away, and was able to wait less than two hours before I had to put some of it in my mouth!

Freshly baked, golden brown, and smelling like a million bucks
Nikon D50

The loaves browned beautifully. I opted not to put a glaze on them, wanting to taste the flavors of the dough alone, and looking back, I’m glad that I didn’t make one of the fancier variations. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! The bread is unquestionably delicious, perfect as a dessert or, toasted, as a treat with coffee. It would also be devastating as French toast! I’ll definitely be making this bread again. Just, y’know, with more flour next time.
See also: Heather’s Artos.
Next up: I tackle New York City-style bagels head-on!

Jan 242008
 

There is something about baking a pastry – a real, from-scratch, layered bit of flaky dough – that makes you feel like a total badass.

Let’s face it, pastries have a pretty formidable reputation. They’re certainly not in the “if you can boil water you can handle this” category. I’ve always had a huge soft spot for croissants, but there is another indulgence – the humble Danish pastry – that has a special, sentimental significance to me.

If there was ever a recipe for me to cut my pastry chef teeth on, this one had to be it.

Follow the yellow butter road
Nikon D50

See, this is another recipe that is near and dear to my heart. Like beef burgundy, my family has been eating these delicacies around holidays since I can remember. Perhaps even more significant, my Mom has been eating them ever since she can remember. When she was a kid, her next-door neighbor (the eponymous Mrs. B) would bring them over each Christmas Eve so that their family could chow down on them the next day. Before my parents’ wedding, my Mom had a kitchen shower where the guests brought treasured recipes to give to her. Mrs. B brought this.

Dough coiled and ready to rise
Nikon D50

So when, as I mentioned earlier, Cory and I were in the midst of forging our own traditions, these little gems were so in. I made my very first batch sans supervision this last Christmas (my previous foray being the year before when my Mom was visiting for Thanksgiving) and on the morning of Cory and I ate like royalty, feasting on the light, fluffy, and delicate (both in flavor and texture) yumminess.

Pastries glazed, baked, and cooled
Nikon D50

I will warn that this is not the easiest recipe I’ve ever posted. In fact, if you lack the proper patience it’s probably actually the hardest I’ve shared thus far. So with that in mind, use a light hand when folding the dough – you don’t want to tear it. If it happens, don’t hesitate to pinch the dough closed and put the dough in the fridge since it will start oozing butter. So take your time, enjoy being a real-life badass pastry chef, and enjoy the end result even more!

A pastry close up
Nikon D50

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