Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Great Pie Tips

To tell you the truth, I don't think I've ever tried to bake a pie from scratch by myself (I'd rather put in the time for "easier" desserts like cookies, brownies, and cake), but America's Test Kitchen's Feed posted some great tips for pies! You can view the tips at http://www.americastestkitchenfeed.com/curious-shortcuts/2011/12/your-pie-deserves-these-5-things/.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

My Favorite Tomato Soup Recipe

So far this fall weather has been pretty good to us. We've only had snow a few times, and this morning there were flurries floating through the air. This recipe takes me back to snow days when I was a little kid in Georgia. We lived on a steep hill, so whenever an ice/snow storm hit, we couldn't get out of the driveway and lots of time we lost power. Fortunately, we had a wood-burning stove so my mom could cook on it when we lost power, and one my favorite things she made was creamy tomato soup. Even though she was taking a can of Campbell's Tomato Soup and fixing it up by adding milk, it was a great way to warm up after playing outside all morning in the snow.

Now, Campbell's Tomato Soup just doesn't taste the same as it did when I was little, so I was really excited to see a recipe for "Classic Tomato Soup" in the February/March 2010 issue of Cook's Country. This soup was creamy and tomato-y. It took a little time to make, but the results were well worth it. I even made this with store-brand ingredients and the soup was yummy.

Classic Tomato Soup (serves about 6) from Cook's Country
2-28 oz. cans diced tomatoes
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda*
Salt & pepper
1/2 cup evaporated milk (or heavy cream)

Drain the tomatoes in a large colander set over the bowl so you can save the tomato juice. You will have to press on the tomatoes to get all the juice out. Transfer the juice and chicken broth a large measuring cup (there is suppose to be 4 cups of liquid-- I had to add a little more chicken broth). Set juice/broth mixture aside.

Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven set over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, which takes about 5 minutes. Add two-thirds of the drained diced tomatoes, the bay leaf, and brown sugar. Cook until the tomatoes start to brown, stirring occasionally, which will take 15-20 minutes.

Add the tomato paste and flour to the pot and stirring frequently, cook until the paste begins to darken. (This will only take a minute or two).

Slowly add in the reserved tomato juice/broth mixture, the baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Stir the soup together and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until thickened, about five minutes. Remove from the heat.

I goofed up in the previous step and removed the bay leaf before adding the paste and broth/tomato juice. The soup still came out fine, but probably would have been better had I led the bay leaf in.

Now you can puree the soup. Make sure to remove the bay leaf. I used an immersion blender to puree the soup in the pot. Stir in the evaporated milk and season to taste with salt and pepper.

*Note: According to Cook's Country, the baking soda "neutralized some of the acid in the tomatoes for a perfect sweet-tart balance. And its sodium ions weakened the pectin in the cells of the tomatoes, allowing them to puree into a silken soup."

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Basic Hearth Bread

Ever since I've sworn off of eating sandwiches for lunch during the week, I look for any excuse to eat bread with dinner. Last Sunday, I planned to make poached eggs with braised peppers and onions, and figured the Basic Hearth Bread from The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum would be a good one to try.

This bread has a great crust and is hearty enough for dipping into something saucy. In fact, tonight for dinner I sauteed some mushrooms, threw in a container of leftover spaghetti sauce, and ate that with just the bread for dipping. It was yummy!

I used a stand mixer to knead the dough, so the following instructions reflect that. You could knead with your hands if you're  so inclined. 

I also left out a step in her original recipe (she calls for allowing the dough to rest for 20 minutes after the initially mixing it), but I thought it turned out wonderfully despite this oversight.

Rose's book is fantastic because she gives very specific instructions (including what speed to use on your stand mixer).

Dough Starter
5.5 oz. bread flour
1.25 oz. whole wheat flour
3/8 tsp. instant yeast
1 1/4 tsp. honey
1 1/3 cups of room temperature water

Flour Mixture
10.3 oz bread flour
1/2 tsp. instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp. salt

To make the starter (aka sponge) whisk the bread flour, yeast, honey and salt together in a large bowl. Whisk for 2 minutes to incorporate air and to get the mixture very smooth. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap while you combine the flour mixture.

For the flour mixture, combine the ingredients and gently pour the mixture onto the dough starter to cover it completely. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow it to ferment at room temperature from 1-4 hours.

After fermenting, mix the dough using a dough hook in a stand mixer until the the dough is rough. Knead the dough on medium speed for about 7 minutes, until its elastic smooth, and slightly sticky. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow it to rise until it has doubled, about 1 hour. 

Next, shape the dough into a boule and place on a sheet of parchment paper on a sheet pan (or prepare a loaf pan and shape it into a loaf.) Allow it to rise 45 minutes to an hour (mine took an hour). Place a sheet pan on the bottom rack of the oven, and have a rack in the middle of the oven. Pre-heat your oven to 475 degrees. Right before you bake the bread, slash the dough. Place the dough on the middle oven rack, and pour 1/4 cup of water into the sheet pan on the bottom rack to create steam. Bake for 10 minutes. Turn the bread for even browning, and lower the temperature to 425 degrees, and bake for another 20 minutes. Take the bread out of the oven and (try to) wait until it's cool before slicing.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Peanut Chews

On Wednesday there was a rare occurence in Michigan: we had a snow day! Well, everyday is a snow day here, but on we actually had the day off from work. Since I was feeling bored, I decided to bake something. We only had chocolate no-bake cookies in the freezer, so it was time to replenish the cookie supply. I decided not to go for chocolate chip cookies and tried a recipe from King Arthur Flour's Whole Grain Baking. The challenge was to find a recipe that called for ingredients in the cupboard, and fortunately there was a recipe for Peanut Chews. The only change I made was to substitute molasses for the honey (or dark corn syrup).

These cookes are soft and chewy,  and not overly sweet. But, they're not very pretty (and thus the reason why there aren't pictures with the post). They are also very easy to put together.

Peanut Chews from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking (about 28 cookies)
1 cup of smooth peanut butter
3.75 ounces dark brown sugar
3.25 ounces granulate sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp. molasses (or honey or dark corn syrup)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
6 ounces whole wheat flour
1/2 cup of lightly salted dry-roasted peanuts, finely ground (a mini food processor is great for this).

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the peanut butter, sugars, egg, water, molasses, vanilla, baking soda and salt in a bowl. In a small bowl, combine the ground peanuts and whole wheat flour. Once the peanut butter mixture is smooth, slowly add the flour and ground nuts. Mix everything together until its well combined.

Line your baking sheets with parchment paper (I ended up using 3 baking sheets). Drop tablespoon-sized pieces of dough on the cookie sheet. You can use a fork to flatten each cookie and make a pretty pattern on the top (or you can use the bottom of the glass).

Bake the cookies for 11-12 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. Move the cookies to a cooling rack to allow them to cool.

Peanut Chews aren't like you're traditional peanut butter cookies. They are really chewy, not chewy and crumbly, so don't expect the same texture. However, expect them to be delicious!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Potato and Canadian Bacon Slow Cooker Chowder

I had such high hopes for this recipe (partly from my mother's comment of "This is so good I'd make it for company") I started writing this blog before I even tasted the soup.

This is easy to make and very satisfying on a 25 degree day with snow blowing everywhere. It's really thick and comforting. And of course you must eat this with bread.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Crusty Hard Dinner Rolls

Crusty Hard Dinner Rolls. This title could be construed two ways: crusty and hard like break your teeth off crusty and hard, or crusty and hard as in it's is useful for mopping soup out of bowl. Fortunately for us, the latter definition describes these rolls, which have a great crust (although it actually isn't that hard). I've made this recipe two times, and its becoming one of my favorites for a few reasons:

  1. It's easy. Water, flour, yeast, salt. Mix 'em together and let 'em do their thing.
  2. You can bake the rolls on your schedule. It takes me three days to make them, but there's minimal effort required and you aren't constantly timing them.
  3. They're forgiving and still come out looking beautiful. Sure, you can take the time to measure each piece of dough when you divide it to make the rolls so all or uniform, but if you're a little rushed you can always eyeball the amount. Also, the slash and egg glaze you add right before baking result in a nicely browned crust that makes for a wow factor at the table. These rolls really look like they came from a bakery.
  4. They taste good. Since the recipe calls for a starter and an extended stay in the fridge, the rolls develop a nice flavor. It's  not as complex as a sourdough, but not flavorless, either.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Lessons in Baking and Flaxseed Sandwich Loaf

Holiday time = baking time. Not necessarily cookies and cakes—I consider my time off during the holidays a great time to stock pile the freezer with homemade bread. I baked four loaves in three days, and a I gleamed a bit of knowledge I would like to share:

No-knead oatmeal bread: Be sure to set the time when you put the bread in the oven. Or else you’ll have to guess and you’ll have a very golden brown, crusty loaf of bread. (I’m sure at least it will be good for toast, but it went in the freezer right away).

White sandwich bread recipe that makes 2 loaves: Do be careful to NOT let the second loaf pan slip, and crash sideways into the first loaf pan which is already in the oven. The mishandled loaf was actually fine, but in my haste I placed it too close to the other loaf, and the two baked together. After they baked, I had to pull them apart to get them out of the pan, which results in two far from perfect loaves. However ,they will be delicious despite their cosmetic flaws.

Flaxseed loaf: Easy and simple recipe that makes great toast. I avoided the problems faced with the two previous loaves by a) setting the timer and b) being very careful when I put said loaf in the oven.

This recipe comes from The Bread Bible. The only thing I wasn’t completely satisfied with was the shape of the finished loaf. The error is all mine since I need to practice shaping bread (I’m getting a lot better) and I think I let it rise too high. At the end of the day, it is a pretty sturdy bread that you can slice thin for sandwiches and toast.

Again, I used my kitchen scale to measure the ingredients rather than measuring them with cups.

Flaxseed Loaf from The Bread Bible
13 oz. all-purpose flour
5 oz. whole wheat flour
2.5 oz. pumpernickel flour
2 oz. flaxseed, coarsley ground
1 ¼ tsp. instant yeast
2 Tbsp. honey
14.6 oz. water
2 tsp. salt

Finally a reason to try out that pumpernickel flour!
 In a bowl, whisk together the flours, flaxseed, and yeast. Form a well and pour in the honey. Mix on low speed with a dough hook while gradually adding the water. Mix until all the dry ingredients are moist and have come together to form a rough dough (takes about 1 minute). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 20 minutes.

The autolyse.

Sprinkle the salt on the dough and then knead it for 7 minutes on medium speed.

Put the dough in a greased bowl, cover, and let it rise for about one hour, or until doubled.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and shape it into a loaf.

I need to work on getting the dough as long as the pan-this loaf is just a bit too short.

Place the loaf into a greased loaf pan and allow it to rise until it is 1 inch above the rim of the pan (about one hour).

Bake the loaf until golden brown, about 40-50 minutes. Once baked, turn the bread out onto a cooling rack and let cool completely before slicing.

Happy Belated New Year!