Tuesday, March 31, 2009

TWD: Coconut Lime Cookies

This week, our TWD assignment was to bake Coconut Butter Thins. Jayne, of The Barefoot Kitchen Witch, was the lucky selector. I just happened to have all the required ingredients on hand, including an overabundance of limes, so no special trip was needed. I did swap out the sweetened coconut with unsweetened. Last September, when I was visiting my daughter in Lincoln, Nebraska, I found some in a local grocery store and purchased a big supply that is now sitting in my freezer. To me, it tastes better than the over sweetened coconut one typically finds in the stores.

There is nothing out of the ordinary to report about preparing these cookies, although interestingly enough, the cookies baked on the parchment came out lighter in color than those baked on the silpat. They taste like shortbread with a hint of citrus and coconut. Very tender, very delicious.

I had a half dozen stragglers that didn't make it onto the primary cookie sheets, and when they baked, they came out extra brown and crispy. I ate those first, since they were the "bad" ones, but, I have to say, they were pretty darn tasty. Next time, there might be a few more over-baked cookies than usual. (wink wink nudge nudge)

Check out Jayne's blog for the recipe, and the TWD site for all the other versions and opinions.

Monday, March 30, 2009

BBD 18: Can You Spare a Beer?

OK. First, I have to say that this is one fabulous bread. Not like a quick bread at all, but more akin to monkey bread.

This month's challenge for Bread Baking Day #18 is brought to us by Mansi of Fun and Food. Mansi chose quick breads as the theme, but which one to choose? I love bread of any kind and I have many recipes for quick breads, so I was searching for something unique that I had never made.

Typically, my bed time reading involves food or cooking. Food magazines and books seem to migrate upstairs to the side of my bed, and the stack is growing exponentially.
Heaven help some off-topic book that happens to get mixed in to that stack -- it may not surface again for months!

So it was one night, recently. I was 'auditioning' a new cook book, you might say. Translated: see if the library owns it, check it out, and see if the book could be a worthy purchase in the near future. After only one recipe test, yep, I believe it will go on the list.

The book: the Pastry Queen by Rebecca Rather

The recipe: Beer Bread

Since I'm now living with the 21-year-old beer queen, I figured it was worth a shot (or bottle, as the case may be). Heck, I even used one of my own beers for this: Fat Weasel Pale Ale. Last one, too. Left over from September when my DC friend came to visit. She's a beer-drinking kinda gal, and I aim to make my guests comfortable. You may wonder why it sat around for 6 months.
First, it's not my daughter's style of beer, and while I have a substantial liquor and wine supply, I sort of forget about actually drinking it, using it more for cooking. (I was a cheap date in college. I could nurse one drink for the whole evening. But that's another story.)

So, I took my last bottle of pale ale and transformed it into one of the best breads I've ever made or eaten. It's so quick and easy, that I suspect other bottles of beer
in this household may just be in jeopardy. The cookbook author suggests that the bread be consumed while still hot from the oven; but we, here, can testify that it is good at room temperature, too. Assuming it lasts that long.

Beer Bread

(adapted from the Pastry Queen by Rebecca Rather)

3 cups AP flour
1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons sugar

1 12-ounce bottle good-quality beer or ale

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease a 9" x 5" loaf pan with butter or cooking spray. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Pour in the beer and stir until just incorporated. (The beer will foam wildly and the dough will by sticky and heavy.) Pour half the melted butter into the bottom of the prepared loaf pan. Spoon in the bread dough and pour the remaining half of the melted butter on top. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the bumpy top is golden brown. Remove from the pan and serve immediately.

The loaf can either be sliced with a serrated knife, or pulled apart like monkey bread.

To vary the flavor, you can add extras like cheese, onions, chives, or chiles.

BBD is a popular food-blog event that was started by Zorra of Kochtopf

Friday, March 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Red, White, and Green

The March edition of Daring Bakers went a little outside the baking box for many participants. Instead of something sweet, we were challenged with a savory and colorful dish:

The recipe we’ve chosen this month is Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagne Verdi al Forno) from The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food by Lynne Rossetto Kasper (published by William Morrow and Company Inc., 1992).

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

Even though I've been making homemade pasta for many years now, I was looking forward to preparing the spinach lasagna noodles using fresh spinach. In the past, I had a spinach powder that I used, but it is long gone. I weighed out the appropriate amount of fresh spinach, then finely chopped it in the food processor before adding it to my egg and flour mixture. It certainly turned out a beautiful shade of green!

The last time I used my hand-cranked pasta roller, I had difficulty finding a place to set it up. My kitchen counters have no overhang, so I couldn't clamp it there. I recall that I just struggled with it unclamped.

Sometime after that experience, I was watching an episode of Alton Brown's Good Eats, where he was making fresh pasta. His suggestion was to attach the pasta roller to an ironing board, which I thought was a brilliant idea and was itching for a chance to try it out. Along came the DB challenge, and away I went.
I have to say, it was the perfect set up.

As it turned out, I was making the pasta at midnight, so I decided to let it dry overnight. I draped the noodles over a broom handle, then propped the broom over the kitchen sink for the night. I didn't want the dog to get too curious or tempted while I was asleep. Also, my noodle dough was a bit on the wet side, so some of the noodles kept falling off the broom handle. I preferred that if they had to fall, they would do so in the sink and not on the floor.

In the morning, I had to go to a 4-hour class, so I transferred the pasta-holding broom to the ironing board, and left.
My daughter, who was unaware of all this activity during the night, awoke to find a strange sight in the kitchen: an ironing board, supporting a broom, holding brilliant green noodles. She allowed as how it was a bit frightening.

After I returned in the afternoon, I prepared the ragu sauce, using my own recipe (see below) and a bechamel sauce. When those two ingredients were done, I cooked the noodles then assembled the lasagna. As a recommendation, I would
strongly suggest doubling the bechamel sauce. For the cheese, I decided to use a combination of Parmesan, fontina, provolone, and mozzarella. We like cheese in this house.

On the positive side, the lasagna was in the oven before I had to go to work (evening shift). On the negative side, it was finished after I had gone, so my daughter was in charge of the final baking steps. She got to taste it first. I had to wait until 9:45 pm when I returned home. Talk about torment.

The verdict?

Delicious. We loved the addition of the bechamel sauce. It's even tastier the next day. I might even have enough left over to take as a lunch one day this weekend when I'm at work.

Browse through the Daring Baker blogroll over the next while so you can see all the hundreds of versions of this delicious lasagna. (Some are even gluten free!) For the recipes, please visit the hosts' blogs.

My standard ragu sauce

1/4 pound bacon, cut into 1" pieces
3/4 cup sliced onions
1/2 pound ground beef (or a mixture of beef or pork)
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
3 8-ounce cans tomato sauce
Extra additions: sliced mushrooms, sliced olives of any kind

In a large skillet, cook the bacon until light brown, pouring off excess fat. Add the onions, mushrooms (if using), and meat; cook until brown. Add the salt, pepper, garlic, Worcestershire, sugar, and tomato sauce. Simmer, covered, 20 minutes. Add the olives, if using; simmer, covered, 15 minutes.

Sometimes I add a splash of red wine just for fun.

Barefoot Bonanza

I'm a bit late with this posting, so I decided to create a meal, so to speak.

First, there is the appetizer -- Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts, chosen by Anne of
Anne Strawberry.

This is a delicious and simple appetizer or first course that uses pre-made puff pastry, an item that should be present in everyone's freezer, right? Usually. I hadn't been to the grocery in nearly 3 weeks, so yesterday I braved the afternoon crowds and headed for Trader Joe's and the local grocery. I've used three kinds of puff pastry before, TJ's, Pepperidge Farms, and my own.
Of the three, TJ's performs the worst. I was disappointed that the tarts didn't rise much even though they tasted fine. PF does well, and my handmade puff pastry does the best, but there is a time issue there. I may try again with the TJ's brand but not roll it out and see if that makes a difference.

The only thing I changed on these tarts was the cheese. Try as I might, I just cannot tolerate goat cheese, so I used some herbed feta in its place.

Overall, I was pleased with the end result. I decided to bake off the scraps and spread them with Nutella for a quick snack.

The next course on my BB menu was Sauteed Broccolini, which was selected by Mary of
Meet Me in the Kitchen. This is not an easy vegetable to find in the market, but I did score a package at TJ's. I really enjoyed the added flavors of garlic and lemon, and it certainly was a quick side dish to prepare.

Finally, the dessert. Tia of
Southern, Eh? chose Brownie Pudding.

A little bit of this goes a long way, that's for sure. This is a very rich dessert, and it was a big hit with my daughter. I believe she finished it while I was at work, because I came home to an empty serving dish one evening. Clean, but empty.

I'm looking forward to April's menu and hoping I won't be so late with the cooking and posting. Please stop by the
Barefoot Bloggers site for more information.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

TWD: Blueberry Crumb Cake

This week, our tasty treat from Dorie is brought to us by SiHan of Fundamentally-Flawed. The main ingredient is one of my favorites – blueberries.

My dear neighbor had wonderful timing – she asked me if I would like anything from Costco this week since she was making her monthly trip. I knew right away that blueberries would be on her list. Sure enough, by late afternoon, I had a large container of fresh blueberries in my refrigerator.

This was an easy recipe with no mishaps to report. The batter was thick and lovely and the blueberries stayed in place. I made the crumb topping by hand, using my pastry blender, and I have to say, it’s my favorite part of the cake. This cake would be the perfect choice for either a breakfast treat or for afternoon tea.

The other Tuesdays with Dorie bakers will have their own take on this recipe, so be sure to stop by for a peek.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

My Kitchen, My World: Ireland

At 21, my daughter has become a beer connoisseur. Right now, I have more beer and more kinds of beer in my refrigerator than in all of the last six years combined. This obsession served me well this week for my culinary visit to Ireland.
MKMW made a return trip to the Emerald Isle, and I wanted to create something less Americanized than the ubiquitous corned beef and cabbage. Don't get me wrong -- I like that dish very much, but it is really more American than Irish. Soda bread was another possibility, but variations on that theme were popping up all over the blogiverse this week, so I let that one pass as well.

I am, after all, at least a quarter Irish, so I can do as I please. My great-grandparents emigrated from Ireland in the 1840s and 1850s. The families had names like Finnegan and Prendergast and Donelon, and they came from Counties Clare and Mayo and Cork, and from Northern Ireland as well. The majority of them settled in western Iowa, in Sac and Carroll Counties. The old cemetery in Carroll contains their remains. I've walked it, checking out the headstones and seeing the family legacy first-hand.

So, with two bottles of Guinness sitting in the fridge, I decided to make Pork Medallions in Guinness sauce for dinner on St. Patrick's Day, accompanied by Champ (mashed potatoes and scallions) and Broccoli (which you can pretend is the cabbage substitute).

I sliced a pork tenderloin into medallions and sauteed them until brown on both sides. Then I sauteed a small onion, sliced. I placed the pork on top of the onions, then added a splash of cider vinegar and about 3/4 cup of Guinness. The mixture simmered for about 20 minutes. I removed the port, and stirred in some whole grain mustard, reduced the sauce just a bit, turned off the heat, then added in some sour cream. Once again, I returned the pork slices to the pan, coating them with the sauce. For plating, I topped each serving with a sprinkle of sliced scallions, to complement the mashed potatoes.

There were no leftovers.

My daughter made a Black & Tan to go with dinner.

For other Irish treats, go to My Kitchen, My World, where you will also discover our next culinary destinations.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Buddy time: Pane Francese

Sometimes things in life treat you unfairly.

Take Pane Francese, for example. Not only did its aroma permeate the house while baking, tormenting two starving people, but it only made two loaves. Within 30 minutes, one loaf was nearly gone. We couldn't wait any longer for it to cool.

Let me back up a bit, though.
This month, the Bread Baking Babes got together and created Pane Francese, thanks to Sara of i like to cook. It's an easy, straight forward bread that requires a few days to prepare. You'll find the recipe on Sara's blog.

First, a chef is created. (Well, that's me, actually, and I'm already here (ha ha -- a little bread humor)). The chef to which the recipe refers, however, is a piece of dough that is saved from a previous baking. In lieu of that, you need to create one from scratch, using a bit of sour dough starter. It so happens I had recently refreshed one of my starters, a daughter from some starter made months ago. She had lain dormant in the fridge for a number of months, and I had decided to check and see if she was still viable. Apparently she was.

Wednesday night, I mixed a bit of starter with some flour and water, covered the bowl, and went to bed, hoping that I would find some bubbly goodness on Thursday morning. Amazingly, I did. Off to a good start.

(No photo because I didn't want to jinx it.)

Thursday, I took that mixture and added more flour and water to create the second stage levain. I really wanted this to work out. After about 3 hours I checked
the bowl and there was this lovely, bubbly, mass of dough. On to the final mixture and rise.

At 5:30 pm on Thursday, I put the newly mixed dough into the Big Bowl and placed it in the proofer, figuring it would take it's time on the 8-10 hour rise segment. The new 'chef' was sitting in its place on the counter, waiting for 8:30 pm, when it could be wrapped and saved for a future batch of bread. All was well.

At 11:30 pm I checked the Big Bowl and discovered the active dough had already reached the top, so I placed it in my retarder (aka fridge) for safe-keeping.

(Notice the great Pyrex nesting bowl set, three of which were used to make this bread.)

This morning, I removed the dough, placed it back in the proofer, and within 2 hours, it was ready to go. I was amazed at how many bubbles were in the dough. It was as if there was a ton of yeast working away, but in reality, there was none. I formed two batard-like loaves and let them rise for 2 hours, then popped them into the hot oven. The oven spring made the loaves even larger, and as I mentioned earlier, the aroma was fabulous.

I know you're supposed to wait an hour before slicing into fresh bread, but there was no way that was going to happen this time. This bread will disappear too quickly.

At least, there is a new chef in the fridge, ready to spring into action as soon as the loaves are gone.

This is one great bread recipe, and another winner from the Bread Baking Babes.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

TWD: A Marmalade Dilemma

What to do?

This week, our Tuesdays with Dorie selection (chosen by Liliana of My Cookbook Addiction) was French Yogurt Cake, a lovely, somewhat nutty, pound cake, glazed with marmalade.

I’ve always preferred marmalade to most other jams and jellies (the exception being apple butter), and my most favorite marmalade is lemon. When I travel, I always visit the local markets and supermarkets, looking for interesting and hard-to-find goodies.

And so it is that I have in my pantry the following two items:

Lemon marmalade:

And Blood orange marmalade:

And since I have both a lemon and a blood orange tree, it was a difficult choice, but the blood oranges won out. On one of my last trips to London, I went shopping at Fortnum and Mason. (Oh, to have a bottomless pocketbook!) I discovered this jar of blood orange marmalade, something which I had never seen before and that I just had to have. This was also pre-blood orange tree, mind you. I must have been psychic.

For this cake, therefore, I used the flour and almond meal combination and grated in a healthy dose of blood orange zest. The only yogurt I had was Greek yogurt, which I love, so that is what I used. This was such a nice, straight forward recipe to make. The glaze, of course, consisted of melted and strained blood orange marmalade.

For service, I topped the cake slices with some freshly whipped cream and a few blood orange supremes. The orange flavor was subtle, but lovely, and the orange sections added just the right touch of moisture.

I have now breached my prized jar of blood orange marmalade, although the lemon one is still safe. I admit I have a tendency to hoard food items that I fear I won’t find again. Perhaps I should start using the lemon marmalade so that I have an excuse to travel to London again. For food shopping. Although maybe I don’t really need an excuse, just a long list.

Be sure and visit the other TWD blogs to see all the creative versions of French Yogurt Cake.

(Now, if I can just find some lime marmalade to go with my lime tree . . . . )

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Pi Day, or, You Want S-pies-ce with That?

The latest challenge with the YWPWT group was to incorporate spices and herbs into a delicious pie. It always takes me a few weeks to find the right idea. Thoughts swirl around in my mind, subconsciously, until the proverbial light bulb comes on.

My inspiration came from two sources:
Pie Every Day by Pat Willard and Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman.

I love fresh sausage, but not the overly fatty kind, so, when perusing Ruhlman's book on crafting home-cured meats, I decided to play around with making some fresh sausage. That's where the spices and herbs come in, along with some very lean ground pork. (You could use turkey as well.)

Then, when I was looking through Willard's book, I discovered a delicious-sounding recipe for a breakfast pie using sausage, eggs, and yogurt. Perfect! At first glance, this pie seems like a heart attack waiting to happen, but with very lean sausage and yogurt, it is anything but. I might add, it disappeared very quickly.

I'm looking forward to seeing all the pies that the other group members have made. There are so many possibilities with this month's theme! Thanks also to Elizabeth of Cake or Death for choosing the theme.

Here's the pictorial view of the pie's progression:

Pink sausage in a red bowl. (Can you tell them apart?) :

Sausage sauteeing:

Sausage in pie:

Eggs and herbs are added:

Next is the yogurt/sour cream mixture:

The top is on:

Out of the oven:

Ready to eat:

Italian Sausage

(adapted from Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman)

1 pound lean ground pork

10 grams kosher salt

8 grams sugar

4 grams fennel seeds, toasted

2 grams coriander seeds, toasted, or 2 teaspoons ground coriander

6 grams Hungarian sweet paprika

pinch of cayenne

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried basil

3 grams hot red pepper flakes

1+ grams coarsely ground black pepper

¼ to 1/3 cup ice water

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, chilled

Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly. Let rest an hour or so until the flavors meld. Sauté until cooked through.

(I weigh ingredients whenever possible, hence the metric measurements. Otherwise, I eyeball the amounts.)

Sausage Egg Pie

(adapted from Pie Every Day by Pat Willard)

Prepare your favorite pie dough for a 2-crust pie.


1 pound sausage, crumbled

6 large eggs

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

¼ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ cup ricotta cheese or thick plain yogurt (Greek-style)

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Prepare pastry, using a 9-inch pie pan.

Brown the sausage, drain if necessary. Sprinkle onto the bottom crust.

Keeping the yolks whole, place each egg over the sausage layer. Sprinkle with the herbs and seasonings. Carefully spoon the ricotta (or yogurt) over and around the eggs.

Cover with the top crust, adding a few vents so the steam can escape.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until light brown.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

WCC: Love

As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. This is sadly the case for one of my favorite food blogging events, Weekend Cookbook Challenge, created by Sara of i like to cook. Since I began participating, I've looked forward each month to the challenge topic, and I've had a great time playing along.

For the final event, Sara chose Love as the theme, to be interpreted very broadly. It only took me a minute or so to choose what I would do. I'll be writing about two things that I love dearly.

Hands down, I'm in love with my kitchen. It's the main thing that keeps me where I am, and many of my friends think I'm crazy. It's only a kitchen, they say. You can always create another one like it.


But I'd have to be on the verge of ruin to let it go.

When I bought this house over 6 years ago, the kitchen was truly a disaster. Since I had a few months before moving in, I chose to gut the kitchen and replace it with my own creation. I worked on plans, shopped for appliances and cupboards and lights and counter. Then, I found some lucky souls who would be willing to do all the dirty work for me. It was an adventure. Luckily, not a nightmare.

After having worked in my kitchen for over 6 years now, I can honestly say that there is very little I would change if I had to go through another renovation. More drawers, fewer cabinets. More book shelves. But all in all, it suits me perfectly. Here's a brief, counter-clockwise tour:

My second favorite cooking item is my saucier. I wouldn't be able to part with this tool, either, but thankfully, it's small and portable.

I use it for any sauce-like recipe, such as bechamel. This is how I make macaroni and cheese: a bechamel sauce with cheese and cooked pasta. Each time it's different because I vary the cheese and/or the pasta. The bechamel is usually the same and comes out perfectly every time, thanks to the saucier.

So, Sara, thanks for creating and hosting WCC. I'll miss the ride, but I've had a blast along the way.