Saturday, March 28, 2015

Birdie Bread - adorable buns shaped like little birds!

I posted this bread originally a few years ago, but it was part of another post about - of all things - chicken on the grill.

I thought these cute little birds deserved their very own post. They're perfect for spring, and adorable for Easter. And - big bonus here - they're a lot easier to make than my Bunny Bread. Yes, the bunny is adorable, but it's trickier than these buns.

And, since you're probably piling these into a bread basket, you can put the best ones on top for everyone to oooh and aaaah over. By the time they get to the bottom of the basket, they'll just be slathering butter on them.

This bread is just slightly sweet - not like a sweet roll that you'd have for breakfast, but a slightly sweet dinner roll. Great with a dab of butter. A really good match for spicy food or barbecue.

Like any shaped bread, you're never going to get two that look alike - but that's part of the charm. They'll rise differently before baking, and they'll rise differently in the oven. It's unpredictably fun. And every once in a while, you'll get one that looks just plain weird. Hey, you have to sample one, right?

The hardest part about making these is getting the eyes and beak to behave. The rising dough wants to push them out, so you need to insert them a lot farther in than seems right. And then give them another little push right before they go into the oven.

I wanted to use completely edible items for the eyes and beak, so I used slivered almonds for the beaks and chocolate pearls for the eyes. I was a little concerned that the eyes might melt and make a mess, but it actually worked. The pearls are chocolate-coated crunchy cereal, so they had some substance.

Something more solid - like a peppercorn - would probably work better as an eye, but most folks don't want to bite into a peppercorn, so if you wanted to use something like that, you'd be wise to warn people. A piece of black olive or a bit of dried fruit should work, too. You probably don't need to run out and buy something - look around your kitchen and see what you have that would be edible and suitable.

Birdie Bread

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
2 1/2 cups (11 1/4 ounces) bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
Chocolate pearls (for eyes)
Slivered almonds (for beaks)

You want the liquid to be at room temperature or just slightly warmer, so if your orange juice is straight from the refrigerator, use warmer water to compensate. You won't ruin anything by using cool liquid, but the dough will rise much, much slower.

Combine the water, orange juice, sugar, yeast, and bread flour in the bowl of your stand mixer. Knead it with the stand mixer fitted with the dough hook until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add the salt and olive oil, and continue kneading until they are completely incorporated and the dough is smooth, silky, shiny and elastic.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside until doubled in size, about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Sprinkle your work surface with flour and turn the dough out. Knead it briefly, then divide it into 8 even pieces.

Take one of the pieces and cut off about 1/4 of the dough. Form that smaller piece into a ball. Form the other piece into a teardrop shape.


Make a divot in the fat part of the teardrop-shaped piece, but not too close to the edge as shown in the photo.


Place the ball on top of the teardrop shaped piece on top of that divot you just made.


Place this on the baking sheet, with the pointy end facing the center of the sheet. This will make it easier to work on the face later.


Continue until all the birds are shaped.

Cover the birds with plastic wrap and set aside until nearly doubled in size, about 20 minutes.


Using a toothpick or skewer, poke holes in the first bird's head where you want the eyes and beak. Insert the eyes and beak, pushing them well into the dough. Keep in mind that they don't all need to be facing straight forward - you can position the faces so they're looking up, down, or to the side.


Continue with the rest of the birds, until all of them have eyes and beaks. Cover them with plastic wrap and let them continue rising until doubled - another 5-10 minutes, depending on how long it took to get the faces finished.

Uncover the birds again, and if the eyes and beaks have started protruding, push them back in again. 


Bake at 350 degrees until the birds are nicely browned, about 30 minutes.

Remove the birds from the baking sheet and put them on a rack to cool.


If the eyes and beaks need to be pushed back in again, do so while the buns are still warm. Let them cool completely on the rack if you're not serving them right away.

Don't forget to check out Bunny Bread!
Yum

Friday, March 27, 2015

Cocktail Cherries

While you can use these cherries in your cocktails in place of jarred maraschino cherries, you sure don't want to give these to the kids.

Well, my mom probably would have given me one or two, but she's a pretty bad example.

The cherries absorb some of the liquor and they give up flavor to the alcohol, too, so you end up with boozy cherries for your cocktails as well as a cherry liqueur that you can use in drinks.

It's a two-fer.

I used frozen cherries because fresh ones are out of season. When they are in season, fresh cherries would sure as heck be better.

Once you've made these, you can adjust the spices and the sweetness they way you like. Have fun with it!

Cocktail Cherries

1 pound frozen pitted sweet cherries
6 whole cloves
6 allspice berries
1 star anise
1 tablespoon almond extract
1/4 cup cherry mosto cotto
1 cup vodka
1/4 cup sugar

Combine everything in a quart jar. If the cherries aren't covered by the liquid, add more vodka. Cover the jar and shake to dissolve sugar. You don't need to get it all dissolved at once - shake it occasionally until there's no sugar visible in the bottom of the jar.

Leave the jar cool place for 1 month to completely marinate.
Yum

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Mashed Carrot and Rutabaga (Swede)

I wonder when rutabaga will become the next superfood. Right now, it's pretty obscure, right along with its friends, parsnip and celery root. But I like rutabaga ... a lot. I don't buy it often, maybe because it's tucked in an odd corner at the grocery store.

When I found a recipe for "carrot and swede" in the book Root to Leaf written by Steven Satterfield, I figured I'd give it a try, The focuses on seasonal cooking, and rutabaga (also known as swede) and carrots make a lot of sense at this time of year.

I reviewed it here, if you're interested in more details about the book.

As far as the recipe, it's pretty simple, and makes a bright, colorful side dish for pretty much any meal. If you're looking for something more vegetable-y than potatoes, this could be a good choice,

Rutabagas have a sharp flavor - similar to cabbage - so it might be a little too strong for some folks. In this recipe, the sweetness of the carrots helps to balance the flavor. If you need to tone the flavor down even more, this could be mixed with mashed potatoes.

Really, though, I was very happy with this as-is.

Carrots and Swede
Adapted from Root to Leaf by Steven Satterfield

2 medium rutabagas, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)

Add the rutabaga and carrots to a heavy-bottomed pot. Add water to cover by about 2 inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the rutabaga and carrots are both very tender.

Keep in mind that you're going to be mashing them, so crisp-tender isn't going to cut it. Figure about 30 minutes, and adjust the timing as needed.

Drain the vegetables in a colander and let them continue draining for at least 5 minutes. Rutabaga can be watery, so you need to get all the water drained, or your puree can be a little soggy.

Return the vegetables to the pot. Add the butter, nutmeg, pepper, and half of the salt. Mash well. I wanted a smooth puree, so I used a stick blender, but if you're energetic and the vegetables were cooked well enough, you can mash by hand.

Taste for seasoning, and adjust as needed. If the puree is seeping water, heat it gently and stir until the water evaporates.

Serve hot.
Yum
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