Friday, February 29, 2008

Classic and Simple- French Bread

This was my first challenge since joining the Daring Bakers, a wonderful online baking club. This challenge was hosted by The Sour Dough's Mary and I Like to Cook's Sara. Every month the Daring Bakers has a pre assigned host (the waiting list is VERY long) and they choose one recipe that every daring baker bakes from- no substitutions or amendments at all (unless allergies or dietary restrictions prohibit). We have a private blog that we can communicate on all month long and then we all reveal our entries on our own blogs on a specified day at the end of the month. As you surf food blogs today you are bound to come upon many many beautiful pictures of this bread. This has been a great opportunity for me- there are so many great members and the support of the community is so great. There's really not many areas of baking that I haven't encountered but it's fun to be given a recipe to have to reproduce to the letter, I anticipate finding new ways to do things and happening upon some great keepers... like this one! This bread made the house smell so good! This french bread came from the fantastic Julia Child, from her legendary series "Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 2" It can guide even the most novice of bakers towards a wonderful loaf of fresh bread, that is leaps and bounds beyond anything you would find "just baked" in a grocery store. If you are at all tempted, don't be put off by the directions and give it a try! It's great fresh and great toasted- it makes the ultimate peanut butter and jelly. The recipe was just four ingredients but the directions which are terrifically detailed was 18 pages! So Mary from The Sour Dough's graciously offered up the link to her website to share the recipe, to save all of our tired little fingers!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I have been tagged three times!

I have been tagged for a meme (still trying to figure out what that means... anyone know?) I was tagged by three different people and I'll do my best to follow the rules... I was tagged by Canela & Comino and Barbara Bakes and Proof of the Pudding
Here are the "5 Things" Meme Rules:
1. Link to your tagger and post these rules.
2. Share 5 facts about yourself
3. Tag 5 people at the end of your post and list their names (linking to them).
4. Let them know they've been tagged by leaving a comment at their Blogs.
5 Facts:

1. I got married a little over a year ago in Maui, it was the perfect wedding. Here is a picture of the beach just an hour before the ceremony started... and then one after... someone was really looking out for us ;)

2. We have a wonderful black lab, Puma, who we are crazy for

3. I teach baking and pastry at a culinary school.

4. In a little over a month we are going to be completly remodeling our kitchen. I can't wait!

5. As much as I love meat, I grew up mostly as a vegetarian and tofu remains a comfort food for me, I love it and never get tired of it!

Here are the five people I've tagged:
Confections of a Foodie Bride
Cook and Eat
Blake Makes
My Kitchen Cafe
:pastry studio

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Perfect Peanut Sauce

I have been trying to find the perfect peanut sauce for quite a while, and recently with the help of a few different recipes I happily have discovered the magic combination! Along with the peanut sauce I wanted to share one of my favorite appetizers, salad rolls. They are fresh, healthy and make a great start to a meal or a light meal itself.

Peanut Sauce (makes about 1 cup of sauce)

2 TBS finely chopped shallots
2 TBS finely chopped lemongrass
2 TBS finely chopped garlic
2 TBS finely chopped ginger
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1/4 cup peanut butter
2 TBS brown sugar
2 TBS rice wine vinegar
2 TBS soy sauce
1 TBS lime juice
salt and pepper as needed

Over low heat, saute the shallots, lemongrass, garlic, and ginger in the sesame oil until very soft. Add the rest of the ingredients(except the lime juice)and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and strain and add up lime juice. Check for seasoning and chill.

Salad Rolls are basically a variety of ingredients rolled up in rice paper. There are a few ingredients commonly found in them (rice noodles, cilantro, mint, raw vegetables) but beyond that you can use your imagination to suite your tastes. The following is just a suggestion of what to include (as you can see below in my preparatory picture I kept these vegetarian. I have included in my recipe what I used in these particular rolls, but you can substitute whatever you like. The most important part is to make sure that everything is uniform and thin. These don't keep very well, the rice paper starts to harden. You can have everything ready and well wrapped up to a day in advance and plan on rolling them up to 2 hours ahead of time

Salad Rolls (for 8 salad rolls)
Rice paper (at least 9 sheets- so if one is broken you have an extra)
rice noodles (vermicelli) or bean threads softened in boiling water (about 2 cups re hydrated)
chopped mint (about 1/4 - 1/2 cup)
chopped cilantro (about 1/4 - 1/2 cup)
julienned carrots (about 1 medium size)
julienned jicima (about 1/2 of 1 small one)
julienned cucumber (about 1/2 of 1 small one)

ideas of optional ingredients
pork, chicken, or turkey thinly sliced
shrimp, cut in half
lettuce, shredded
mango or pineapple, julienned
sauteed shitake mushrooms
bean sprouts

You want to make sure before you start rolling the rolls, you have everything ready to go and within reach of your work station. You want to get a large bowl (one that you can easily dip the rice paper into and cover with water) with very warm water. On a clean flat surface you'll need something to help dry the rice paper as it comes out of the water. I like to use a cotton cloth and lay it on my work station and then gently lay the rice paper on it and build my roll directly on the cloth. You could also use a sturdy paper towel. Place the rice paper in the water until soft and pliable. Gently lift out (and put another rice paper in to soak) and lay flat on your work surface. Make sure excess water is removed from the rice paper. At one end make a small pile of your ingredients. It is important you don't have so much filling that it will be hard to roll up the paper. It also needs to be evenly spread over the length of the roll. The width of the final amount of ingredients should be no larger than about a quarter, and the length, no longer than about 3 inches. Then begin to, as tightly as possible, roll up the ingredients. Before you roll the last 1/3 of the roll you want to fold both sides in and finish rolling up. This part will take some practice, the hardest part is getting the roll tight and smooth. It's the same as rolling up a burrito. You have to be careful not to tear the rice paper, but as long as it's not too wet, there shouldn't be a problem with it sticking to itself to seal the roll. After you are done rolling all the rolls cut the rolls in half to serve. If made in advance (no longer than 2 hours) cover with a damp paper towel and plastic wrap to prevent drying out. Serve with peanut sauce.

*The left over filling can either be made into more rolls the next day or they also make a great base for a salad using leftover sauce as dressing

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Around Thanksgiving, the subject of brining becomes popular because of all those large intimidating turkeys that are to be cooked, and it can help to retain moisture and add flavor to the meat. Brining isn't just for turkeys though! This brine below became the secret between some pretty good grilled pork chops to amazing pork chops! I found an article from Fine Cooking that goes into more detail (if your interested) about what's actually happening when you brine meat, and it also gives some good guidelines for brining all sorts of proteins. Just remember to not be intimidated by this, it is only a form of marinating. It creates a foolproof cooking experience, because there is so much salt in the brine it seasons the meat inside out and helps to prevent it from drying out from cooking (or over cooking). I used this brine for some pork chops that I then grilled. One bite after these came off the grill and I was speechless! They were soooo good!. Keep in mind that the seasonings (anything beyond the salt and usually liquid) are interchangeable, and you can use a variety of spices and sweeteners to customize the flavors to match the meal.

Maple Pork Brine (adapted from Tom Douglas' Seattle Kitchen)

3 cups water
2 cups apple cider
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 TBS molasses
2 bay leaves
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper

I heated the water gently (before a boil) to help to dissolve the salt, and then added all the rest of the ingredients. It's important that you don't use the brine (place the meat in it)until it's cooled down to room temperature. Keep in mind that the size of the meat will depend on how long you keep it in the brine. Even if you are doing this a day in advance, just pay attention to how long it has been in, pull it out and store it in a dry container until ready to cook. Too long in the brine will make it too salty. I had some nice thick bone in pork chops that I left in for 4-6 hours. Below I have included a recipe for a sauce/ sauteed apples that I served on top.

2 pieces of bacon chopped in small pieces
1 medium shallot chopped or thinly sliced
2 medium apples sliced fairly thinly
3/4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup apple cider

Slowly render the bacon in a saute pan. Once crispy and most of the fat rendered off, take out bacon and reserve. Drain off all but about 1 tsp of the bacon fat. Add shallots to the pan and begin to saute, after a minute or so add the apples. Season with a little (pinch) of salt and pepper, and a little sugar if needed. Cook apples until barely tender. Add liquid and continue to cook until sauce is reduced by about 1/2 (or thick enough to coat the spoon). Add the bacon back into the pan and check for seasoning. Serve warm with pork chops.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Roasted Tomato Salsa

I am eagerly awaiting those beautiful summer days filled with all sorts of wonderful tomatoes to make fresh tomato pico de gallo. Until then I love this salsa for tomatoes that aren't quite up to par or for when you're looking for something a little thicker and more assertive in flavor. It is very simple and turns even the worst tomatoes into something decent.

Roasted Tomato Salsa (from Rick Bayless Mexico One Plate At a Time)
1 lb tomatoes
3 cloves garlic (skin left on)
1 jalapeno (or more,if you want a spicier salsa)
1/4 cup onion (soak in cold water for 20 minutes)
1/3 cup cilantro

Under a broiler, roast the tomatoes on a sheet pan until the skin gets dark and blisters, and starts peeling away from the tomato. In a hot dry skillet (preferably cast iron) on the stove, put the garlic and jalapeno in the pan and turn them every so often until the skin is dark and blistered. Let everything cool. At this point you can go two routes to finish your salsa, either by hand (or using a mortar and pestle) or you can use a food processor (or an immersion blender). What I did was put the jalapeƱo (to keep it very mild I took out all the seeds and veins)peeled (as best I could) and stemmed into a bowl with the garlic (now peeled) and half of the tomatoes (also peeled and all the flesh and seeds removed) and then I blended it with an immersion blender. I then cut the rest of the tomatoes into a fine dice and added them into the puree (to give it more texture). Drain the onions (soaking takes away some of pungency of the onions) and add that along with the cilantro and seasonings. I added about 1 limes worth of juice, that will all depend on how big the lime is. I also use a little vinegar to perk up the salsa, it usually takes a combination of both the lime and vinegar to season it correctly. If making this far in advance, you can get everything ready, but stop after adding the tomatoes, and wait to add the cilantro and onion until an hour before serving.

Monday, February 11, 2008


Everyone has their measure for judging restaurants. For my husband, one of those measures at Mexican restaurants, is whether the sopaipillas are authentic or not (that would be if they just fry tortillas or actually make sopaipillas). We had some friends over for dinner the other night and I made some sopaipillas for dessert. Of course I had to put my own spin on them, but overall they came out great and passed my husbands very discerning palette. They are often served as savory bread accompaniment to meals or served with honey for a sweet treat. There are so many great honeys out there, this is a time that is worthy of seeking some of them out. You'll see two different versions, fried and baked. I was originally going to fry them and then was looking at one recipe that had been adapted to bake them instead of frying. As long as they are baked right before you eat them they are a great lower in fat alternative. Although nothing really takes the place of something fried! So I made them both ways. I have also used this as my entry for the Time To Make The Doughnuts Event

Sopaipillas (makes about 30 1 1/2 x 3" portions)

1 cup milk (scalded)
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
2 1/4 tsp instant yeast
2 TBS sugar
2 TBS butter (softened)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp orange zest, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
2 cups AP flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
oil for frying

After the milk is scalded and it's cooled off enough, mix in the egg, vanilla, butter and sugar to help further cool down the milk. Once at room temperature, add the rest of the ingredients and mix the dough until smooth and elastic. (After initial combining of ingredients I like the let the dough sit 5 minutes before continuing to knead the dough. This lets the liquid be absorbed and the dough isn't as sticky and hard to work with). Once dough is well kneaded and smooth, place the dough in a clean greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set the bowl in a warm place and let the dough rise until doubled. At this point you can either go ahead and use the dough or put it in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours. When ready to cook, roll the dough, on a lightly floured surface, 1/8th-1/4" thick. At this point you can cut the dough into squares, rectangles, or triangles. I kept the size at roughly 1 1/2" x 3" and cut some in triangles and some in rectangles.*
For frying: use a large thick bottomed pot and fill it a few inches high with oil. Heat the oil to about 360 degrees (use a thermometer). Fry 4-8 pieces (depending on how large they are) at a time to ensure even and quick cooking- you don't want to crowd the pan. Flip after a few minutes (dough should turn a dark golden brown)and cook on other side. Make sure the oil has returned to 360 degrees before putting the second batch in the oil to cook. Drain on a paper towel and sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving. Serve with honey for dipping.
To Bake: heat the oven to 500 degrees (and if you have a pizza stone, put that in now to heat up). When the oven is hot, either put the dough onto a lined or greased sheet pan, or directly on the hot pizza stone and bake until a golden brown (10-15 minutes). If desired, once they come out of the oven brush with melted butter and roll in cinnamon sugar. Serve with honey for dipping.
*To have these ready ahead of time, you can roll out the dough, put it on a sheet pan, cover it and refrigerator until ready to cook (take out to heat up, about 20 minutes before cooking).

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

English Muffins

Once you have a fresh english muffin you'll never go back to store bought again! But isn't that to be said for pretty much everything homemade? It had been a long time since I had made english muffins, and I had gotten The Bread Bible by Beth Hensperger from the library and it had a promising looking recipe that worked out wonderfully. These are easier and less time consuming than many yeast risen breads. You can see I cut my muffins out in the shape of squares, to minimize the waste of the dough (less to roll out afterwards) you could make them even more rustic by rolling the dough into a square and then cutting it with a knife that would yield no scrap and you would be done in one shot. Or if you prefer rounds you could also cut them into rounds.

Cinnamon Raisin English Muffins- makes 18 2 inch square muffins
(adapted from The Bread Bible by Beth Hensperger)

1 1/2 cups milk (scalded and cooled to room temperature)
2 1/4 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 large egg (room temp)
2 tbs softened butter
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 cups AP flour
2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup raisins soaked in water for 20 minutes

When ever I use milk in a bread recipe I scald the milk first because there is an enzyme in there that prohibits yeast from operating at it's full potential. So often recipes skip this step. I have yet to do a side by side comparison but it's one of those rules I choose to live by... so I scald my milk (which is right before it begins to boil). But make sure you cool it back down because if you use it too hot your yeast will die- then it's all for nothing! To cool the milk, I started by putting it in a big clean bowl and adding my butter in (if it melts, it's ok) and then once it was slightly cooler, I used that as an opportunity to mix my egg in, making sure it was pretty well mixed in before adding the rest of the ingredients. Make sure the raisins are well drained so you don't add a lot of extra water to the formula. You can use a mixer or mix the dough by hand. Mix until the dough is smooth and elastic. Turn that dough into a clean greased bowl, cover with plastic, and put it somewhere warm, where it can double in size. After it's doubled, gently fold the dough on itself a few times and turn it over so the bottom is on top. What this does is, redistributes the yeast through out the dough, and also evens out the temperature, it's kind of like a second wind for the dough- to give it more rising power. From here let it sit about 20 more minutes (it should be about 1 1/2 times it's size). Turn it out onto a floured surface and gently pat it into a square. Let it rest about 20 minutes (covered with the same plastic wrap) and then continue to roll out until about 1/4- 1/2 inch thick. From here you can either cut them (using a cutter of some sort)into rounds or squares (I happened to have a fun set of square cutters)or you can just use a knife and cut them into squares. You can make them as small or large as you want. Transfer the muffins to a sheet pan that has been sprinkled with cornmeal (to prevent them from sticking) and then once you have cut all you can cut, round the scraps into a ball and let it sit about 10 minutes giving the chance for the dough to relax before re rolling. For the muffins that are ready to be cooked, sprinkle the tops with some more cornmeal and cover them with plastic to let them rise until about double in size. Re roll the scraps one time and then make sure you give those enough time to rise before cooking. To cook, heat up a skillet or whatever you would use to cook pancakes (something fairly large with a lot of flat surface area). You want them to have about the same amount of heat (about medium)as you would cook pancakes. You want to be able to cook them about 5-8 minutes a side. By the time both sides are a nice dark golden brown, the muffins should be cooked through you can always double check by sticking a thermometer in the side (to reach the middle) and you want it to at least read 185 degrees. You can cook them in batches, keeping an eye on the uncooked ones to make sure they aren't rising too much. After you take them off the heat cool them on a rack and you can presplit them with a fork it you want.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Banana Pancakes

I have to admit my standby pancake recipe that I often resort to is Bobs Red Mill 10 grain pancake mix. It's healthy and easy and I'm not sure I could do much better with my own formula. That doesn't stop me from collecting pancake recipes though and I suppose one of these days I'll come up with a mix of my own, but until then I have stumbled onto another recipe that will become a regular in our house. The addition of the cream of wheat gives the pancakes a very creamy texture. Even though there is only 1 tbs of sugar the banana (make sure it's VERY ripe) makes these very sweet and flavorful.

Banana Pancakes
1 cup oat flour
1 tbs sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 oz cream of wheat
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 tbs hazelnut oil (or any other oil or melted butter)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 large egg
1 large mashed banana

Mix the dry ingredients in one bowl. In another bowl mix the wet ingredients and gently fold into the dry ingredients. Let it sit for a few minutes to let the dry ingredients absorb the liquid. Heat a griddle and grease if needed and cook on one side until golden brown and flip.

*You'll see hazelnut oil make regular appearances in my recipes where a nutty flavor is desired. It doesn't have a strong flavor, just a sweet background nutty flavor. It is also a healthy fat, it has omega 9 fatty acids. You can also find other nut oils, along with hazelnut oil in many grocery stores and gourmet food stores. These are great for baking and also wonderful in vinaigrettes.

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Perfect Crust

Our winter inspired white pizza fresh from the oven

Pizza has become a weekly occurrence in our house and slowly over time I have revised my recipe, to what I finally consider the perfect crust. It gets nice and crispy but still is a little chewy and full of flavor. It's hard to make a whole wheat crust that's not dense and flat. I guess it's not just the recipe that has been revised, but also the cooking technique to achieve the perfect pizza. I realize this recipe may not be user friendly to some given the weight measurements instead of cups and teaspoons. Next time I make my crust I will try to remember to measure it out for you. But I would also recommend that if you don't have a kitchen scale already, to invest in one, if you cook a lot. Its very handy and makes measuring out this crust so easy.... everything goes right into one bowl so you can put the bowl on the scale and keep taring it to zero with each new ingredient (or do the math). Using a scale is not only more accurate, but also takes a lot less brain power and usually prevents measuring errors. I am also pretty sure that not everyone has durum (semolina flour), or vital wheat gluten hanging out in their cabinets but you can work around that if you don't want to buy it. The vital wheat gluten is added to help with the addition of the whole wheat flour (to develop more gluten). The durum helps make the crust a little chewier. You can par this down to a more basic recipe using 300 grams of flour (all white bread flour if you wish) and leave out the durum and vital wheat gluten.

Ready to put into the oven

Pizza Crust

150 g whole wheat flour
100 g bread flour
50 g durum
2 g instant yeast
6 g salt
190 g water
6 g oil
9 g honey
1 tbs vital wheat gluten

You can scale everything into one bowl, starting with your dry ingredients. If using active dry yeast you will need to bloom it in the water ( warm it up first) and then mix everything else in. Mix the dough either using a mixer or by hand until all the ingredients have been completely incorporated. I find my hand to be the most efficient tool. After you get everything mixed let the dough sit about 5 minutes to let the liquid hydrate the flour. Then you want to knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic. If it looks like the dough is getting too tight, let it rest for five minutes (giving the gluten a chance to relax) and then go back to it. The dough will be more supple and easier to knead. Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover it and let it double. For maximum flavor it's best to let is sit overnight in the refrigerator, and it can sit for up to three days*. Pull it out of the refrigerator about 2 hours (depending on how warm the room is) before using it, to give the dough a chance to warm up. While it is warming up you can prepare your toppings- usually when I make my pizza's I will put a thin layer of sauce and then I like to put dollops of ricotta cheese before putting my toppings down and then finishing with a sprinkle of cheese. I don't like a pizza that's over loaded with cheese (we try to keep it on the healthy side) so that's why we put the ricotta on the bottom to give that creamy effect and then a sprinkling of cheese on top maximizes it's flavor. This pizza I have posted is a winter inspired pizza with no sauce ( a thin layer of garlic infused hazelnut oil takes it's place), ricotta, roasted cauliflower, caramelized onions, pears and smoked blue cheese which was awesome!
The key to a successful pizza, is baking in a hot oven directly on a hot pizza stone. I turn my oven up to 500 degrees (but this may be too hot for different ovens I think ours runs a little cool it will be slight trial and error) with the pizza stone already in the oven.
Now with the oven and stone heating, and the dough at room temp, toppings ready, it's time to build the pizza. Depending on how thick you like your crust will depend on this next step. You can use a small amount of flour if you find your dough sticking.
For a thicker crust the best way is to gently start stretching the dough out. This takes some practice to not stretch the dough too thin in places you can cheat by starting with a rolling pin and then from there you want hold the dough on one end and let it hang in the air (so gravity can help) and slowly rotate the dough so you work your way around the entire edge. This dough will make about a 15 inch pizza. So by the time you're done, what you want is for the edges to be a little thicker than the center. If the dough is too thick underneath the toppings, it won't get crispy enough.
For a thinner crust you can just keep using the rolling pin and keep everything the same thickness, rolling the dough out to about 1/4 inch.
Now that the dough is rolled out your going to need a piece of parchment paper (NOT wax paper, this is going in the oven) a little bigger than the size of the dough, and you will need another flat sheet pan and a little bit of semolina or cornmeal. If the sheet pan has sides turn it over so you are using the back. Sprinkle some of the cornmeal on the sheet pan (this is going to make sure the parchment slides right off the pan) and then place the parchment on top and sprinkle some more cornmeal (so the dough doesn't stick to the parchment). Place the dough onto the parchment and smooth it out so it's fully stretched out. (This is where it gets tricky- you need to make sure the dough is the size of the sheet pan so it doesn't hang over the edge. After the dough is on the parchment, build your pizza and then pick up the pan and give it a slight shake to make sure the parchment will slide off the pan. Open the door and put the pan in the oven and angle the back down close to the stone. This should cause the pizza to slide as well. In one sweeping motion you want to gently push the pizza to the edge so it's almost touching the stone and as you lower it down, pull the sheet pan quickly away. What you should end up with is the pizza nice and flat on the pizza stone! (this move can take a little practice) From there the pizza usually takes about 10 minutes to bake (depending on the temperature). You want to make sure you see that the crust is a dark golden brown (don't be afraid of some color) and that the cheese is bubbling and is taking on a little color, this will assure that the bottom is also cooked. If you pull it out too soon , the top may look nice and done but the bottom will be soft and not hold up well. To remove from the oven the easiest way is to pull on the parchment and slide the pizza back onto the sheet pan you used to put it in the oven. That way you don't have to deal with taking the hot stone out of the oven. Good luck, let me know how it goes! (or if you have any questions)

*You also have the option of freezing the dough at this point. To do that, you want to gently deflate the dough and then, to freeze it, wrap the dough well and immediately place in the freezer. To use after frozen, let it thaw completely (either in the refrigerator overnight or at room temp for a few hours) and continue as normal.