Mar 312013
 
Eggs: successful poaching eludes me.

Eggs: successful poaching eludes me.

This has been one of those weeks where Sunday has rolled around, and lo, I have no material to post. It wasn’t for lack of trying: for one, my camera’s two battery-chargers have apparently eloped and my batteries are dead, and two, I’ve been attempting to beat two different recipes/techniques into submission, but the wily bastards have gotten the better of me. I won’t go into huge detail here since they will hopefully get full write-ups of their own, but here are three very important lessons I’ve learned over the last several days:

  1. Lots of people on the internet — people I even trust and respect — will tell you that you can make brown sugar at home with white sugar, molasses, and a food processor. THEY ARE LYING. Shakes fist at Ms. Smitten Kitchen and Mr. Good Eats.
  2. Make sure the water is for-real boiling when you add eggs for poaching. This “almost boiling” crap is not going to cut it, unless you like under-cooked whites and over-cooked yolks. Seriously, how does that even happen???
  3. Also, trying to poach an egg in a little mixing bowl to cheat is totally unsatisfying and produces eggs that are distinctly not poached.

I hope your week in the kitchen was better than mine, and here’s to next week being better!

Cheater poached eggs are distinctly not poached eggs.

Cheater poached eggs are distinctly not poached eggs.

Feb 032013
 

Eggs are magic.

Many food cultures seem to agree and have come up with their own version of savory eggy dishes. Omelets and quiches are pretty well-known, but have you ever had a frittata?

The Italians dreamed this one up. Envision a crust-less quiche without the usual addition of cream to the filling and you’ve got the measure of this bit of deliciousness. These things, like omelets, can be as simple or as fancy-pants as you’d care to make them, which makes them ideal for situations when you’re short on time but don’t want to sacrifice the yum-factor — no matter what time-of-day you’re cooking for. They go as effortlessly from the dinner table to delicious left-overs warmed-up for breakfast.

I’ve been making this version of frittata for years. I like it because I nearly always have the ingredients on hand, prep is done in five minutes, and about twenty minutes after that, I’m pulling dinner (or breakfast/brunch/lunch) out of the oven. Feel free to add and subtract ingredients to suit your whims. Nearly anything goes, so next time that carton of eggs in your fridge challenges you to a staring contest, show it who’s boss and whip up a frittata!.

Spinach and feta frittata

Click for the recipe →

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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Sep 042012
 

Kentucky bourbon French toast with bourbon-triple-berry coulis and bourbon whipped cream

There’s something I discovered about The Hubs’ family last year: they really love bourbon. And really, they have a point: there is something extremely compelling about the scent alone that evokes all sorts of warm and woodsy mental images.

So, last summer, there was a family reunion out at one of his relative’s houses in Kentucky, just on the outskirts of bourbon country. We took some time to visit the Maker’s Mark distillery, which was the point at which I discovered The Hubs’ and his dad’s mania for good bourbon. I kind of fell in love with the stuff myself: I could pitch a tent in the aging room with all the barrels and live there quite happily for years, methinks. I wouldn’t need food or water or anything else in particular, really: I could just live off that aroma.

So here’s where my dirty little secret about bourbon comes in. I don’t particularly like to drink the stuff. I really, really wish it tasted as good as it smells, but for me it’s just like Scotch in that I’ll happy sniff up that aroma all day but wouldn’t think about, say, drinking it straight. The lone exception is the time my parents and I found ourselves in the midst of a twenty-car pile-up on the freeway between Phoenix and Tucson in the middle of a giant you-can’t-see-six-inches-in-front-of-your-face dust-storm known as a haboob, narrowly escaped death and/or serious injury three separate times, and somehow managed to get out of that version of hell without a scratch. Once we got home, you bet your ass I poured myself a generous helping of Maker’s straight-up. But I digress.

You may be wondering how I am able to enjoy the scent so much when you can burn your nasal passages pretty well when you go in for a sniff. I learned this trick at the Maker’s distillery: put your nose in the glass and then inhale through your mouth, not your nose. This has allowed me to enjoy that amazing aroma to my heart’s content and has been especially helpful during my pregnancy, since it’s not really cool to drink massive quantities of bourbon when one has a bun in the oven.

Cooking with bourbon is ideal for someone like me: it burns off that ouch-burning alcohol but leaves the warm, vanilla-y, woodsy flavor behind in whatever you add it to. So when I discovered at the end of August that September is National Bourbon Heritage Month and that someone had compiled a list of recipes that used bourbon, I got really excited. I wasted no time planning out the first of our forays into a bourbon-soaked menu, and this amazingly delicious breakfast was the result. We’ll see how long we’re able to keep this up, since the end of my pregnancy is going to mean the end of cooking for a while, but hopefully we can get another couple of recipes made before that happy event!

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Nov 302009
 

A couple of years ago, several great friends from college came to visit me in Alaska. Back in those days I was always cooking for myself, so whenever I had guests I tended to go a little overboard because I was so excited to a) feed mouths other than my own and b) eat with friends. One of the meals I remember best from their visit was the morning we decided to make French toast. At the time I lived across the street from L’Aroma bakery so Jeremy and I wandered across the street while the other three folks were still asleep. The bakery had challah (pronounced ‘hallah’) that day and as we ordered the loaf one of the other employees ran across the store, raised the roof, and yelled “CHALLAH!”
Ahh, L’Aroma. You just don’t find quality people like that everywhere.

A beautiful golden brown double-decker braid!
Nikon D50

So when all my Thanksgiving baking was done (and really, it was pretty epic), it came time for our sixth bread in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge and I was pretty excited. Not only could I make this awesome bread myself, but I could also recreate that scene in my own kitchen without humiliating myself in front of several dozen strangers at the local bakery in Tucson. I was also excited to find out that this bread is nowhere near as bad for you as I thought. I had imagined challah to be a very close cousin of brioche, but in reality this bread uses only about an eighth of the fat (and that fat is vegetable oil instead of butter) and fewer eggs. So what’s not to love?

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Nov 082009
 

This week the Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge brings us a concoction that I had really been looking forward to trying out. Brioche has a decadent reputation: it’s known as the butteriest of breads, more similar to pastry than even, say, challah. Be it due to its reputation or its availability, to the best of my knowledge, this bread had never passed my lips.

The book offers three variations: the rich man’s (in which the butter is a whopping 87 percent of the flour’s weight), a poor man’s (the butter is a scant 25% of the flour), and the middle class brioche (where the butter only matches half of the flour’s weight). Having heard about the utter decadence of the rich man’s version – and knowing/fearing my self-control around freshly baked bread – I opted not to go that route. That said, I still wanted a real brioche experience, so treating this as a special occasion, I settled on the middle class bread. Plus, I figured, since I made this on my birthday, if I happened to over-indulge I could just skip dessert after dinner. Awfully fitting, since Marie Antoinette is rumored to have actually said “Let them eat brioche” instead of “let them eat (birthday) cake!” I’d rather have bread than cake any day anyway.

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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!

Nov 292007
 

I’ll tell you a dirty little secret:

Alaskans eat Rudolph.

And he is delicious.

There are lots of things that one can do with reindeer sausage, like serving it as an appetizer, putting it in a soup, or… eating it with breakfast! My favorite way to have this particular bit of Alaskan fare is in an omlet or breakfast scramble. This is a great way to use the stuff you have in your pantry and vegetable drawer and makes a satisfying savory breakfast that will leave you smacking your lips, savoring the deliciousness. In fact, it’s a variation of what I call my pantry scramble because it’s something delicious you can make without having to make a special shopping trip for it. Because it’s so convenient and delicious, I always make this when I have overnight visitors.

If you don’t have reindeer sausage where you live, I suppose you could substitute another ingredient in (after all, this is a pantry scramble, it’s made of whatever you happen to have on hand) like chicken or a different type of breakfast meat. Which brings to mind that one of the joys of this dish is that it will be different every time you make it.

Reindeer scramble

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