Sunday, January 31, 2010

BOTD: Crabby Bread

Sometimes a plain loaf of bread isn't enough, you've got to get fancy with the presentation. While the bunny bread I wrote about before was a bit of a challenge, this crab-themed bread was pretty easy.

Also, it yields several different products: the claws and joints are rolls, the body is a sliceable round loaf, and the legs are much like breadsticks.

At the top is the loaf just after it was formed, the middle photo is just as it was entering the oven (and please note that I snipped the claws right before baking) and below is the final product.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Banana Maple Muffins

I was thinking about banana pancakes with maple syrup, which is a little odd, because I'm really not crazy about pancakes. And when I do eat pancakes, I prefer them with just butter and no syrup at all. But still, the flavor profile was stuck in my head.

Sort of like when a song gets stuck in your head, but this was the flavors...bananas in a batter with maple...bananas in a batter with maple...bananas in a batter...and I kept thinking it would be an interesting combination.

Maple probably isn't the first thing you think about when you think of bananas, but it's also not something that would seem too horrible, right? I mean, people put maple syrup on top of almost any kind of pancake, even though I'm not one of them.

Since pancakes were off the menu for me, and since I happened to have a few bananas that were past their prime, I decided to take those flavors and combine them in a muffin, thusly:

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Chickens And Cattle And Goats, Oh My!

This was first published in the June, 2009 edition of the Left Hand Valley Courier as part of my regular Vicinity and Beyond series.

Chickens and Cattle and Goats, Oh My!

As I tell people, I’m a city girl. Born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, wildlife in my childhood neighborhood consisted of pigeons, sparrows and squirrels. Or the baby elephant that escaped from a circus train and wandered through town. But that’s another story.

When I was a kid, as far as I knew the only difference between a farm and a zoo was who was more likely to eat who. Which explains why I was snapping pictures of cows and chickens and goats during a recent visit to Windsor Dairy.

As far as the reason for the visit to the dairy, it all goes back to a crazy idea I had about making cheese at home. It sounded like an interesting project, but the more I read about it, the more opinions there were about the value of fresh organic milk for cheesemaking as opposed to pasteurized milk.

In particular, the antibiotics in non-organic milk can hinder the cheesemaking process, and there’s a difference in texture between cheese made from raw milk and those that have been heated to high temperatures during commercial pasteurization.

The problem is that in Colorado, you can’t legally buy or sell raw milk. It’s perfectly legal in other states, and in some areas of the country raw milk is at stores, right next to the big brands.

Here, the only way you can have raw milk is if you own a cow, which is a little easier than you might think. Some dairies sell shares of their herds, which gives shareholders a set amount of milk per week, along with access to other raw milk products. It’s perfectly legal, and becoming quite common.

Windsor Dairy is one of the local dairies that sells shares, as I found out at the Boulder Farmer’s Market on opening day. So I signed up for a half-share and went to the dairy to see the operation and meet some cows.

Besides the organic dairy herd, Windsor Dairy also raises some cattle for meat, and chickens for their eggs. Dairy goats are a relatively new addition to the livestock at the farm. Since there are so few goats right now, the milk will be available first to people who require goat milk for health reasons.

The animals at Windsor Dairy seem to be living the good life, compared to the conditions we’ve heard about at factory farms. Here, the chickens roam free once they’ve adjusted to the idea of coming indoors at night (to keep them safe from predators). Even the ones still being trained had quite a bit of space to roam outdoors.

The cows weren’t quite as under-foot as the chickens, but they also had plenty of room to roam. The cows are all pasture-raised, when there’s green stuff growing on the ground for them to eat.

On the tour, it was explained that it’s not all grass in the fields. Cows like wildflowers and other plants as well, and the dairy plants special mixtures to keep the cows happy and healthy.

Part of the dairy tour includes time to watch the milking operation. A little more high-tech than a guy on a three-legged stool, the milking is automated but not completely hands-off. The cows seemed completely oblivious to the whole process.

Besides offering a tour of the property, the dairy also has a small store where it sells dairy products, fresh eggs, and meat. While aged cheeses are available to the public, the raw dairy products are only available to people who own a share in the herd.

Windsor Dairy offers tours on Friday and Saturday at 3 p.m. or by appointment. The dairy store is open Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sunday from 1 – 5 p.m. For more information see

Yogurt by the Quart

Ah, yogurt!

I was never a huge fan of it before. There were a few brands and flavors that weren't bad as a snack. Lemon was my favorite, but I'd try others now and then. Overall, though, it was just okay.

Then I discovered Fage yogurt. Now, that stuff was good. I liked it plain, and I liked it with the addition of my own fruit. And particularly with bananas.

Then I decided that it might be better to make my own yogurt. I read about it, and it didn't seem terribly complicated. Yogurt, after all, it just milk that's gone bad in a good way. Just like cheese. After seeing an episode about yogurt on Good Eats, I was convinced that I had to give it a try. I mean, why not? At worst, I'd ruin some milk. Not the most expensive item on my shopping list, so I decided to give it a try.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

What’s Cooking? One Recipe, Endless Variations

This was first published in the January, 2010 edition of the Left Hand Valley Courier.

The What's Cooking column usually includes a photo, but my risotto wasn't particularly photogenic, particularly for newsprint. But it tasted great. Here, we've got a photo of the mushroom and lobster risotto that didn't make it into the paper.

One Recipe, Endless Variations

If you think Italian food is all about pasta and tomato sauce, maybe it’s time for a change. How about some rice?

I’m talking, of course, about risotto, that creamy rice dish that seems so mysterious and complicated. You may have sampled it as an appetizer at a fancy Italian restaurant or seen Gordon Ramsey yelling about it on Hell’s Kitchen, but have you ever thought about making it at home?

At its essence, risotto is a simple dish. Few ingredients. Simple techniques. But like that little black dress, it can be accessorized to make it as fancy as you want it to be. It can be a first course, a side dish, or a meal.

The first thing you need for risotto is the right rice. You can bring out all the techniques in the world, but without a short-grained starch-releasing rice, you’ll never get the creaminess that makes risotto what it is.

The next thing you need is patience. Risotto takes time. It can’t be rushed. And if you go the traditional route, it also requires some attention. This isn’t a dish you can easily turn your back on, but it’s not terribly taxing and it doesn’t require fancy equipment. A sturdy pot and a wooden spoon are just fine.

Friday, January 22, 2010

What's Cooking? Gifts for Cooks

This was first published in the December, 2009 edition of the Left Hand Valley Courier.

Gifts For Cooks

I still remember the look of horror the first time I asked my husband for a kitchen tool for Christmas. He’d heard the stories about husbands who bought vacuum cleaners for their wives and spent the next three months sleeping in the garage.

It took a long time to convince him that cooking implements – at least for me – are like new toys. Vacuum cleaners and leaf blowers are still off limits.

A basket of flours (yes, I spelled that right) would be an interesting gift for the baker in your life. For the bread baker, King Arthur’s organic bread flour has just been introduced, adding to the ridiculous range of flours they sell. Some are available at the local grocery stores, but if you’re looking for Italian or French-style flours or more unusual grains and blends, you’ll probably need to shop online.

If your baker is more interested in the sweet side, how about some unusual pans for cakes, cupcakes and muffins? Nordicware has an amazing array of Bundt pans ranging from the traditional shapes to cottages and sports arenas.

For smaller cakes, the Backyard Bug Pan bakes up bugs and butterflies in a pan that’s shaped like a leaf. The underside has decorative veins on the leaf that would make it an interesting decorative piece when it’s not in the oven.

Did I mention that Nordicware pans are nonstick and heavy enough to bake evenly? And if you don’t like bugs or Bundt pans, the company makes a huge variety of pans to fit anyone’s personality or party needs.

On the savory end, how about a cookbook and some unusual cookware to go with it? Before there was nonstick and before stainless steel, there was clay. While modern metals are a wonderful thing, sometimes you can’t replicate a traditional dish without using a traditional cooking vessel.

In Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking, Paula Wolfert explores the use of a variety of clay pots, and includes both traditional and modern recipes. While it’s unlikely you’ll want to invest in every clay pot mentioned, for most recipes Wolfert gives several options. One of the most common is the Spanish cazuela, a round, straight-sided earthenware vessel that can be used in the oven or on a stovetop. Besides using it for the recipes in this book, it makes a nice serving dish or baking dish for any of your other recipes.

The book and a cazuela would be a great combo gift for your adventurous cook. But beware. Not all the recipes in the book recommend a cazuela, so expect to find other earthenware pots on next year’s shopping list.

How about a few stocking stuffers? Microplane has a variety of graters and zesters to fill any cook’s stocking. Or is your cook a little clumsy when it comes to grated knuckles? Microplane also makes a cut-proof glove that makes grating a more fearless experience. It’s also great when using a mandoline.

Not sure what tools your favorite cook needs? How about unusual spices or spice blends, colored sugars, vanilla and other flavorings, vinegars, olive oils, jams and jellies, or exotic coffees, teas and hot chocolate blends? Avoid the temptation to buy a pre-packaged, shrink-wrapped box at the mall. Instead, shop locally, buy some odd and interesting things, and put it all in an interesting cake pan, basket, serving bowl or baking dish for a unique gift that the cook in your life will love.

Fast And Easy Dip

For a fast holiday nosh, this dip tastes much more complex than you’d guess from its short ingredient list.

Take two parts Greek yogurt (I like Fage Total) to one part finely grated cucumber. Drain the liquid from the grated cukes before you add it to the yogurt.

Add a tiny bit of grated onion, to taste. For two seven-ounce containers of Fage, start with about a teaspoon of the grated onion and work up from there. Add salt, to taste.

Note: This dip can be used immediately, or let it sit in the fridge overnight so the flavors can meld. To make the dip match the theme of other dishes, add herbs or flavorings, as desired.

After publication notes: The dip mentioned above was something I whipped up when I was doing a demo of the Microplane box grater. I also served a carrot cake, which went over well, but I was astounded at how many people were amazed at the dip that I served with pita chips.

I really didn't think the dip was anything special, but since I got so many requests for the recipe, I figured it was worth publishing in the newspaper.

While I usually make my own yogurt, for the demo I didn't want to have to launch into that explanation, so I went with my favorite commercial brand that's now available in most of our local stores.

If Fage isn't available where you live, try another Greek-style yogurt, or just strain any plain commercial yogurt through a coffee strainer or a very fine-mesh metal strainer. When you're starting with a thicker yogurt, you can add ingredients that are a little more watery, and still not end up with soup.

Personally, I like the Fage Total (the full-fat variety) rather than the 0, 1, or 2 percent versions, but feel free to substitute whichever you prefer. But it seems to me that you're using yogurt in place of what might normally be sour cream, so the full-fat version is already a giant step lower in fat. And then you're adding cutting it by adding cukes. So for a dip, it's pretty healthy, even with the full-fat yogurt.

Since publishing this, I've made a few recipes from the Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking cookbook, and I recently bought a Chinese Sand Pot, which I've tested with plain old rice. Pretty soon, I'm be venturing into some more interesting recipes with that pot.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What's Cooking? Let the Games Begin

This was originally published in the November, 2009, edition of the Left Hand Valley Courier.

I'm always experimenting with bread recipes and techniques, trying to see how the bread reacts. A baker's couche seems like such a simple thing; it's just a linen cloth that the bread rests on during rising. So for my column in the Courier, I baked some breads using one of Reinhart's recipes, and let two rise on a cookie sheet and two on the couche.

On the downside, transferring the puffy risen dough from the couche to a peel to a stone in the oven takes a little finesse. But it does make a difference in the final product, when compared to breads that are left to rise on a cookie sheet and baked on that same sheet.

Here's what I wrote:

Let The Games Begin

Ah, fall…the bounty of the harvest…the feeding frenzy that starts with Halloween, followed by the Thanksgiving feast, and ends with cooking, cookies, and cakes in December.

I’ve often said that cooking is my sport, and Thanksgiving is my Olympics. In the weeks leading up to the big event I’ll look for interesting twists on old favorites, try out unique ingredients, and bring out the fancy cooking equipment.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What's Cooking? Food, History, Food

This was originally published in the October, 2009, edition of the Left Hand Valley Courier. It has also been published in the recipe section of Cayenne Kitchen's website.

I love carrot cake for so many reasons. It's not too sweet, it's moist, it's filling, and it's not terribly bad for you.

However, this carrot cake did not want to pose for photos that would work well in the newspaper where this column appears. Not only is newsprint not a great medium for detailed photos, but I never know if the pictures will be in color or black and white. And I don't know what size the photos will be, so I'm never sure how much detail will show up.

And carrot cake is decidedly brown. Flecks of orange appear, as in the closeup here, but it's still a lot of brown. And the more I looked at it, the more I realized that in the newspaper it would probably look like meatloaf. Which is tasty and all, but not when you're writing about carrot cake.

When I made a second cake using more whole wheat flour and darker sugars, the cake turned out a deep brown. It was pretty, and the powdered sugar design on top was decorative, but the slices looked like chocolate cake.

So trust me when I say that the photos here are both carrot cakes made from this recipe, and they were both absolutely delicious. Not only did I serve it to friends and family, but I also served to strangers at Cayenne Kitchen, where I was doing a demo of the Microplane box grater and cut-proof glove.

Here's the column:

Food, History, Food

You probably wouldn’t be surprised to know I have lots of cookbooks. On a lazy day, I might browse through those books for hours, just for fun.

I also like books about food. Which comes in handy when someone asks a question about an odd ingredient and I explain the history of it. Yeah, I’m a food geek.

So I had to pick up “An Edible History of Humanity” by Tom Standage. It an interesting twist on world history, discussing the role that different foods played in shaping humans and their world – and at the same time, how humans changed the food.

Monday, January 18, 2010

What's Cooking? Yes, You Can Can

This was originally published in the September, 2009, edition of the Left Hand Valley Courier.

If you think pickling and canning died out with hoop skirts, think again. People are becoming more interested in knowing what’s in their food, and many are trying to avoid high fructose corn syrup, chemicals and preservatives. If you make your own pickles, you know what’s in the jar.

When I was a kid, bread and butter pickles were one of my favorites, and they still are. While most pickle recipes require pickling cucumbers, I’ve found that bread and butter pickles are acceptable using regular cukes. But since pickling cukes are being harvested now, you can make enough of these pickles now, to last you until next season.

These pickles, from Ball’s Complete Book of Home Preserving, are very close to the pickles my mother used to make. The recipe makes about five pint jars of pickles, but you can easily double it. Besides pickles, this book has instructions for preserving just about anything you can imagine.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Where the Buffalo Roam

This was originally published in the March, 2006, edition of the Left Hand Valley Courier, as part of my regular column series, Vicinity And Beyond.

Where’s The Buff?

When city-slicker friends come to visit you, prove that you live in the wild, wild West by taking them to the 100-acre Spomer Ranch in Milliken. Dave Hayes, ranch owner, assured me that there’s someone at the ranch “24/7, unless we do something crazy like go to the bank or something.”

The Spomer ranch has been in the family since the late 1800s. Spomer is Hayes’ grandmother’s maiden name. He said, “I came to the ranch in 1989 after my grandmother passed away, to do some remodel work and ended up staying.”

BOTD: Semolina White

Semolina flour is what's used in some pastas, but I really like the flavor and texture that it gives to breads. Ever since I discovered this little trick, I've been adding semolina to a lot of different bread recipes.

If I'm ordering other things from the King Arthur Flour website, I usually stock up on their semolina. Locally, I buy Bob's Red Mill semolina which is available at the supermarkets.

Today seemed like a good day to bake bread, so I starting throwing things into the bowl of the Kitchenaid stand mixer.

1 cup of whey, warmed in the microwave to take off the chill
1 yeast-spoon of yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon honey crystals
2 scoops of semolina flour

Okay, this requires some explaining. The whey was left over from yogurt making. I strain it because I like a thick yogurt, and I keep the whey for making bread. The honey crystals are dried honey that I picked up at an Asian market. I'd never seen them before, so I had to buy. The scoops of semolina are because a keep a scoop in the container and I wasn't in the mood for measuring. Imagine it was about a half-cup or so.

What I'm Reading Now: The United States of Arugula

Okay, not exactly "now," because I finally finished it over the holidays. And yes, I'm late to the party, because the book has been out for a long time. So shoot me.

Anyway, The United States of Arugula by David Kamp was the last book I finished, and it was not at all what I expected. I picked it up, cheap, at a used bookstore (or should that be a used-book store? whatever.) and bought it just because I knew it was a quite popular book about food. Hey, if a title like that is in the paperback rack for fifty cents, it's hard to refuse.

After recently reading one of Michael Pollen's books, I was sort of expecting more of the same - nutrition, factory farming, the history of various foodstuffs - but instead, this was more about the people of food. The introduction starts with a 1939 quote from Clementine Paddleford, a woman I'd never heard of, but am now intrigued by.

And of course it chronicles the writers and restaurant owners and critics and the different food movements that were spawned because of (or in spite of) those people.

My downfall, in reading this book, was that it mentioned so many other books, mostly cookbooks. And I have a really, really bad cookbook habit.

When I stumbled upon a Clementine Paddleford cookbook, of course I had to snag it. Before, I probably wouldn't have given it a second thought, but now this was part of history. In many cases, though, I already had the books mentioned, or at least I had books by those authors. The other good news is that used cookbooks are usually fairly cheap, so my shelf space may suffer more than my wallet.

In some cases, though, the book helped me winnow thought the "find one of these days" list I had of old cookbooks by past luminaries of the cooking world. Some of those cookbook authors were quite prolific, but that doesn't mean all the books are gems. While I don't mind having a few titles by the same person, if I'm going to have to choose from among a dozen titles, I'd rather know which one or two were the best of the bunch. In particular, Kamp sorted through James Beard's many cookbooks, noting which were true classics and which were less inspired.

While I'd heard of many of the people Kamp talked about, it was in isolation. Julia Child was the French Chef and James Beard was that cooking guy, and Alice Waters was, well, Alice Waters. And Escoffier was ... somebody important. But this book managed to tie them all together in a way that makes sense. And it makes the food trends make more sense, too.

Next up: Milk
No, I'm not thirsty. It's the title of a book.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Home Made Pasta

For Christmas, I got the new pasta extruder attachment for my Kitchenaid stand mixer.
The first thing I decided to try was the rotini.
It was fun, it was easy, and they came out great:

Just look at all of 'em! Aren't they lovely?

Spilling the Beans

This was first published in the October, 2007, edition of the Left Hand Valley Courier as part of my regular column, "Vicinty and Beyond."

Spilling The Beans

Coffee aficionados will tell you that fresh coffee is best. Drink the coffee right after it’s brewed, brew it quickly after grinding and grind it soon after roasting. Luckily for those of us near Vicinity, fresh coffee is nearby.

Drive east of Main on 9th Ave. in Longmont, and you might smell the aroma of coffee. The scent is certainly appealing, but the origin is a little mysterious.

A little investigation reveals that tucked in a warehouse along the tracks is the Unseen Bean, Longmont’s own coffee roaster. The tagline “Blind Roasted Coffee” is also a mystery until you realize that master roaster Gerry Leary, is blind.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Musings and Egg Foo Yung


Today started with me knowing that I'd have to do a little work today, but a quick scan of email held the good news that I'd won a prize from my favorite cooking-related website, Serious Eats. So that cheered me up a bit.

And it's always a good day when I'm planning on baking a loaf of bread. I don't know what it is about bread, but it makes me happy to see it change so many times during the mixing, rising and baking.

Better yet, I didn't need to worry about getting the loaf done and cooled in time for dinner, so there was plenty of time for leisurely rising. When the dough came out of the bowl after the second rise, it smelled wonderful, and I was glad I gave it the extra time.

On the other hand, the yogurt that I had prepped the night before hadn't set up. After the fact, I realized that the last time I bought milk from the local dairy, I had yogurt-making problems. So I gave it another shot of culture and let it sit some more. I don't think it's any better, and I'm not sure what I'm going to do with a half-gallon of liquid yogurt. I suppose I can bake with it, but that's a lot of yogurt to use up. And meanwhile, I still have no fresh yogurt.

Oh well.

I had a little errand-running to do, and stopped in at my favorite store in town, a kitchen supply place called Cayenne Kitchen. If I ever lose my mind and wander around town lost, that's probably where they'll find me, ogling the gadgets or the bakeware.

Dinner tonight was egg foo yung, from a recipe I got from an adult-ed cooking class about a thousand years ago. Or it seems that long.

Basically, it's this:

What's Cooking? Back to School

Lemon Curd
This was originally published in the August, 2009, Left Hand Valley Courier.

Kids are headed back to school, but what about you? Are you thinking about dusting off the summer cobwebs and learning something new? How about dabbling in a foreign language while learning some new skills with tools?

Yes, I’m talking about culinary school, where you can learn French names for simple tasks and learn to wield a knife like the best Iron Chef. Does that sound like fun? But is it too much time and expense, if you aren’t planning a career in cooking?

The super-cheap alternative is to spend a few days ensconced in someone else’s cooking school adventures. Katherine Darling’s “Under the Table” will give you just that opportunity, in a book that’s light reading with just enough meat to give you a bit of a message. Plus, there are 24 recipes to tempt you into the kitchen.

The most important lesson in the book, though, may be this: “My old habit of rushing through recipes, taking shortcuts whenever possible, began to melt away as I understood that there was a reason for every single step, and that the final product would taste infinitely better if I spent the time to do everything properly, with care.”

In a cooking landscape littered with quick-and-easy, 5-ingredient-or-less recipes that guarantee a family meal on the table in less than 30 minutes, it’s good to consider that sometimes the extra five minutes, the extra dirty bowl or the extra pinch of spice can make a huge difference.

If Darling’s book isn’t enough culinary school for you, why not get serious? I first looked at “On Cooking” when someone told me it was their favorite cookbook, but it’s more than just a cookbook – it’s a textbook used in culinary schools. Sure, there are recipes, but there are also detailed explanations, techniques, definitions and historical notes.

At over 1400 pages, with 37 chapters and a multitude of recipes, it’s a complete cooking class, from simple sauces to elegant presentation. But the recipes aren’t out of place in a home kitchen. For example:

Hungarian Goulash
Adapted from “On Cooking” by Sarah R. Labensky and Alan M. Hause

2 lbs. onions, medium dice
2 oz. lard or vegetable oil
4 tablespoons Hungarian paprika
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Salt, to taste
1 quart white stock (see note)
4 oz tomato paste
5 lbs beef stew in 1 1/2” cubes

Sauté the onions in the oil or lard until lightly browned. Add paprika, garlic, caraway, salt and pepper; mix well. Add the stock and tomato paste, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add the meat simmer until tender, approximately 1 1/2 hours.

Note: a white stock is a made from beef, chicken or veal bones that have not been browned or roasted first, resulting in a light-colored stock. You’re not really in cooking school, so use any good-quality homemade or store-bought stock that you like.

“On Cooking” includes chapters on baked goods, but if you want to skip cooking school and head right into the pastry kitchen, the companion book, “On Baking” might be for you. Besides cakes, pies and breads, there are candies, fillings and mousses to tempt your sweet tooth. And while the results are professional, you might be surprised at how easy some are to make at home.

One-Step Lemon Curd
Adapted from “On Baking” by Sarah R. Labensky, Priscilla Martel, and Eddy Van Damme
This recipe makes enough lemon curd to fill an 8” pie shell

12 eggs
4 egg yolks
2 lbs. granulated sugar
1 lb. unsalted butter, cubed
1 oz. lemon zest, grated
12 oz. fresh lemon juice

Whisk all ingredients together in a large bowl. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water and cook, stirring frequently, until very thick – approximately 20 to 25 minutes. Strain, cover, and chill completely.

Class is over. Now, get cooking!

BOTD: Wheat, Oat and White

Today, I decided I needed to bake some bread. Not for dinner, but it would be nice to have some for toast in the morning.

I started with the usual cup of flour, more-or-less tablespoon of raw sugar, and a yeast-spoon (equivalent of a package, or 2 1/4 teaspoons) of dry yeast, and a cup of water. Here it is in the mixer bowl:

I let the yeast rest there a bit, swirled it around and waited until it got bubbly, like this:

I added a cup of whole wheat flour. I usually let the yeast snuggle up to part of the flour I'm using, and if I'm using something other than white, I put that in first. Maybe no sense to it, but in my mind the wheat, rye or whatever might want a little extra time to drink up some of the water. Mostly I just scoop it out and don't measure, but here's a measuring cup with a rough measure of flour.

I mixed it up and let it sit a bit to get bubbly again. It's about the consistency of pancake batter:

Time to get serious with bread flour. Yes, it's a different measuring cup. I keep a one-cup measure in my bread flour for easy scooping, and I keep a half-cup measure in my AP flour. Here's a rough cup full:

I always add my salt with the second additon of flour. Here's the teaspoon of kosher salt about to meet with the ingredients in the mixer:

After some mixing, it's obvious that the dough is still too wet for what I want.

I dropped in another half-cup (ish) of flour, and then decided that I could use up the leftover cooked steel-cut oats I happened to have on hand. This looks to be about a half-cup or maybe a little less. It all went in.

The oatmeal added more liquid to the mix, so I ended up adding about another half-cup of flour. If you're keeping track, that's roughly one cup of whole wheat, two cups of white bread flour, and about a half-cup of cooked steel-cut oats.

Now the dough looks lumpy because of the oats, but its nearly correct as far as the flour. The dough is getting stretchy, but it's still way too sticky and loose.

I added about another quarter cup of flour and let it romp in the mixer for a while. Now, it's a more cohesive ball of dough. I added olive oil, again unmeaured, but I figure it's about a tablespoon or so. My attempt at an action shot of pouring the oil wasn't very successful, but here it is:

I covered it with plastic and let it have a nice rest while I wandered off to do other things.

I decided I had time for a second rise, so I removed it from the bowl, kneaded it and formed it into a nice ball, plopped it back into the bowl and ran off to take care of some errands. I drizzled a teeny bit of olive oil over it before I covered it the bowl with plastic wrap.

When I got back this is what it looked like. The yeast was obviously happy and active. And maybe I was gone a little longer than I planned on, but that's okay.

I took it out of the bowl, shaped it into a loaf, and put it onto a cookie sheet where I had sprinkled corn meal. Covered it with plastic wrap, and set the alarm for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, plus some time for fiddling around, I uncovered the bread, slashed it down the center and popped it into the oven at 350 degrees, convection on. I've found that bread can bake at a wide range of temperatures without fussing about it, and I've even got recipes that start in a cold oven. So the 350 was arbitrary.

Higher temps will give you a darker brown, but browning is also affected by the ingredients. More sugary ingredients will get your bread to brown faster.

And here it is, fully baked. I wanted a softer crust this time, so I put a kitchen towel over it while it cooled. looks a little flat in this photo, but it actually got a good rise.

That's it. Bread of the Day (BotD) #1, baked without a recipe. Easy, hmmmm?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Wheat Free Cooking

While I have no need to live a wheat-free lifestyle, I know plenty of people who do. And as an avid baker, and pasta lover, and cookie fiend, I was curious whether wheat-free alternatives were palatable or not. I attended an event at the author's home, where she holds small cooking classes. There, I sampled her pasta, cookies, pizza, and other foods.

Later, I tried making the bread recipe from the book. As you can see, it looks like a standard loaf of white bread. And the greatest praise came from my husband's comment. "I don't get it. What's the big deal about this bread, again." In other words, there was nothing weird about it that he felt a need to comment about. To him, it was regular bread.

The wheat-free alternatives Mary Capone created are actually quite good. But still, I'd glad that I don't have a wheat problem, because working without wheat makes many dishes a more complicated, and some of the ingredients are a little obscure. When I last spoke with her, Mary said she was considering marketing some of her mixes, to make it easier for people to recreate her recipes. I have no doubt she'll get that project off the ground. She's passionate about making the wheat-free lifestyle a tasty one.

The following article was first published in the December, 2008 edition of the Left Hand Valley Courier.

The Women's Bean Project

This was first published in the December, 2009, issue of the Left Hand Valley Courier.

A Gift That Gives

Do you have someone on your gift list who doesn’t need anything, but you still want to wrap up a little something? Do you know someone who prefers practical gifts? Would you like your gifts to benefit someone other than mega-companies in foreign lands?

Do you want to send some Colorado products to friends and family elsewhere? And do you want to buy those products locally?

You can wrap all of that up with just one purchase from The Women’s Bean Project. Founded in 1989, the Women’s Bean Project helps women break out of the cycle of poverty and unemployment by giving them jobs that act as stepping stones to other employment.

Jossy Eyre, the founder of the project, saw that women’s homeless shelters kept women safe, but didn’t help them better themselves. She bought $500 worth of beans, and put two homeless women to work, and the idea grew from there.

The Olivator

A while back, a kitchen store called Cayenne Kitchen opened up in town, and I quickly became a regular customer, and got to know the owners, Terry and Bill. Recently, they moved to a larger space which gave them enough elbow room for more product demos. I volunteered myself to help out, if they needed someone to talk about gadgets and bring food samples.

The second demo I did was for a product called The Olivator, a product designed to stuff olives and other small stuffable things. Yes, I'm going backward. I'll get to the first one later.

When we were discussing The Olivator, a woman who overheard the conversation said that she'd probably use a pastry bag to stuff olives.

Since I hadn't yet seen The Olivator (it was on order) I had to conceed that if someone knew how to handle a pastry bag, that would certainly be an option. But when I finally met the gadget, I realized that it really wasn't meant for squeezing fluffy stuff into olives. Instead, it's meant for cutting a core out of something a little more solid and inserting that into waiting olives.

A pastry bag would be great for smooshing softened cream cheese into an olive; The Olivator can cut a chunk out of feta or Muenster and jam that into an olive.

But stuffed olives are sort of...boring, really. You can buy jars of olives stuffed with everything from almonds to garlic to pimentos.

I wanted to demo something more unique and more fun. I considered making a chocolate ganache to stuff into strawberries and decided that it was a bit too fussy. People might want something easier than that. I looked around the grocery store for something with the right texture, and wound up buying a collection of cheeses and olives and strawberries. I was going to grab some other berries, but it was winter, and all the berries had that sad, desperate look they get when they know they're out of season and shipped way too far from home.

At the checkout, I grabbed a Milky Way bar. Crazy idea, but I thought it might work.

For the demo, I arrived with green olives stuffed with hummus, black olives stuffed with feta, and unstuffed strawberries, hulled and ready to go. And a couple Three Musketeers bars. Yep, I was stuffing candy bars into strawberries. And they were the hit of the demo. People loved the idea, and it was simple enough that anyone could do it. And people like me who prefer cooking from scratch could certainly make ganache and use that instead.

In two hours, we nearly sold out of Olivators, and I heard that the last two were sold the following day to people who had seen the demo, but didn't buy.

As far as my opinion of the Olivator...well, it's not really a serious tool but it's fun. And it does something a pastry bag couldn't. When summer comes, I have ideas for taking cores from different melons and inserting them into other melons to get a polka-dot effect. I was also thinking that could be done with refrigerator cookies that you slice and bake, but I haven't gotten around to that project yet. Or it could be used to punch holes in a pie crust top. Or other things, probably. I still have some experimenting to do, obviously.

A plus is that the gadget comes apart easily for cleaning and is dishwasher safe. And it's pretty small, so it's not like it's taking up too much of its share of storage space. I may not use is as much as I use my Kitchenaid mixer, but I have a feeling I'll find some interesting used for it over the next few months.

What's Cooking? Summer Treats

This first appeared in the July, 2009, issue of the Left Hand Valley Courier.

What’s better than a juicy summer peach? How about personal peach pies topped with a ridiculously decadent scoop of ice cream? It’s the perfect end to a summer dinner, and the pies could serve as breakfast the next day.

Just don’t tell anyone I said that.

Rustic Mini Peach Pies
Adapted from “The Sweeter Side of Amy’s Bread”

Amy’s Bread is a famous bakery in New York, but all I know about it is that this book has produced a number of winners in my kitchen. The recipes include both volume and weight (grams and ounces) measurements, but I’ll go with volume here, for the scale-less cooks.

What's Cooking? Cooking for Dad

This first appeared in the June, 2009, edition of the Left Hand Valley Courier.

Queso Blanco, at left, translates as “white cheese.” It is a mild, non-melting cheese that’s simple to make and tasty on crackers, in tacos, or crumbled on top of a salad.

Cooking for Dad

Dads are sometimes hard to buy for, aren’t they? You can get away with sending Mom flowers or candy every year, but there’s no such one-size-fits-all gift for dads, granddads and husbands.

Casual workplaces have made ties a little less appealing, and handcrafted clay ashtrays have gone the way of the dinosaur. But there are other hand-made items that are universally appealing.

Like food.

To make it even more special, why not make something really unusual and unexpected? Sweets are nice, but maybe Dad would prefer a slab of homemade bacon, some crispy baked potato chips or a personal supply of hot sauce.

Many people would say that it’s too much trouble to make those sorts of foods on a regular basis, but that’s what makes them a perfect gift. Better yet, there are plenty of cooking projects that are kid-friendly, with appropriate supervision.

Take, for example, cheese. It’s unlikely that you’ll be willing to turn your basement into a cheese cave for aged products, but fresh cheeses are simple, and the ingredients are easy to find.

What's Cooking? Mom says...

This column first appeared in the May, 2009, issue of the Left Hand Valley Courier.

In honor of Mother’s Day, a fitting tribute might be to eat food that’s good for you, as moms often urge their children. While yesterday’s health food might be today’s junk food, one thing that’s undeniable is that whole grains have a place in a healthy diet.

Like many things that are good for you, whole grains have a reputation for not being as tasty as their white, de-hulled, polished and branless counterparts. That doesn’t have to be the case.

One of the easiest ways to introduce whole grains to the family table is to start using white whole wheat flour, available at most supermarkets. White whole wheat is lighter in color and flavor than traditional whole wheat, and can be substituted for white flour in most recipes. Much of the time, no one will notice the difference.

But that’s just a first step. Why not use recipes created for whole grains so they really shine? This recipe does just that, resulting in a loaf that’s dark, moist, and a little bit sweet from the molasses. And it really is easy.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

What's Cooking? Faux Food: Whimsy in the Kitchen

This was first published in the April, 2009, edition of the Left Hand Valley Courier.

The photo at the left may look like eggs on toast, but really it’s yellow tomatos and mozarella cheese on toast.

When April Fool’s Day rolls around, many people turn into jokesters, and the kitchen is just one place where practical jokes run amok. I may never forget the fateful April Fool’s Day when my mother decided to put salt in the sugar bowl to fool my father when he drank his coffee.

I was at an age when I hadn’t yet tasted coffee, and for sure I didn’t understand the significance of putting two teaspoons of salt into a cup of coffee. I thought my father would laugh, but when the first sip of coffee got spewed all over and the cursing began, I learned a valuable lesson.

What's Cooking? Corned Beef

This was originally published in the March, 2009, edition of the Left Hand Valley Courier.

Who Put the Corn in the Beef?

Corned beef and cabbage has become a traditional food on St. Patrick’s Day, but for many people the name, how it becomes “corned,” and why it is that unusual color, are very much a mystery.

And what’s the difference between corned beef and pastrami, anyway?

The corn in corned beef doesn’t have anything to do with what the cow ate. Both corn-fed beef or grass-fed beef can become corned beef, with the proper preparation. And there’s no corn used in the preparation of the meat, either.

Instead, corn refers to salt, because in the distant past, the word corn referred to any small hard particles such as grains, sand, or salt. So we have the first clue as to the preparation. There’s salt involved.

Another clue is that corned beef is often called corned beef brisket, and in that case it’is the same cut of meat as regular beef brisket. However, other cuts of meat can become corned beef, including beef round. It’s the preparation, not the cut of meat that is important.

Bunny Bread: The cute and the ugly

Easter, 2007. My mission: to make a cute, bunny-shaped bread for the dinner table. Sounds easy enough, until the dough starts to rise and the bunnies get evil in the oven.

Cute litte fella, isn't he? This one is almost done rising and is about ready to leap into the oven. Problem here is that his head was expanding faster than his body, proportionaly. And when it came of out the oven, the proportions were worse.

BOTD: Basic Bread

Long before the What's Cooking column debuted in the Left Hand Valley Courier, this piece appeared, way back in May, 2007, mostly because we had some extra space to fill.

The bunny-shaped bread, fondly known as "bunzilla" around the house, wasn't actually baked specifically for the column, but it was a cute bread photo that I had handy. For Easter in 2007, I decided that I wanted to bake a bunny-shaped bread, and I started working on getting it right several weeks before. The first bread I baked looked like an adorable bunny going it, and it came out like an angry gargoyle.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I was baking three loaves a day, trying to perfect the shape of the critter. Each day, my husband brought bread to coworkers, and as the days wore on, I nailed down the method for getting the proportions right and the ears to behave. By Easter, I had acceptable bunny bread.

The following recipe is for my basic slap-it-together everyday bread, and to be honest, I don't measure much of anything. I use a yeast measuring spoon that gives me the equivalent of a package of dry yeast, and I usually start with a cup of liquid. But the measuring stops there. I add flour by feel and I sometimes add more liquid as well. But this template is pretty close to the basic formula I follow.

Baking bread is something I really enjoy, and it’s become so much of my routine that it’s easier for me to make a loaf than run to the store. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I bought bread. I even make my own hamburger buns, pita bread and breadsticks.

I use the following template to start almost all of the breads I bake, but I seldom end here. My variations on this bread are endless, including different types of flour, herbs, flavorings, seeds and more. The formula works to keep me from going too far astray, though.

I use a stand mixer to knead the dough, but it’s not strictly necessary.

What's Cooking? Romantic Food

What’s better than a hand-crafted food gift for your sweetheart? How about a handcrafted chocolate gift? Truffles are easy to make and impressive to give.

And even better to share.

The heart of a chocolate truffle is ganache, which sounds impressive until you find out that it’s just chocolate and cream.

Since truffles have so few ingredients, use a good-quality chocolate. If you use a bar chocolate, a serrated knife is best for cutting it into small pieces.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What's Cooking? Cheap Treats

What's Cooking? is a column I write for the Left Hand Valley Courier in Niwot, Colorado. This was the first column, which appeared in January, 2009.

If you’ve been in a coffee shop, you’ve probably seen biscotti. They’re those hard, half-moon shaped cookies that many people dunk in coffee.

You’ll pay about a dollar for one, which doesn’t seem extravagant. But they’re even cheaper to make at home. And darned easy.

This recipe makes about $40 worth of biscotti, if you bought them at a coffee shop. While I haven’t added up the cost of the ingredients, I’d be surprised if it totaled more than a few dollars, and you could cut costs even more by eliminating the nuts.

Biscotti means "twice baked" in Italian, and that’s what gives them their unique texture. And it’s why some of them are teeth-shatteringly hard. This recipe, however, yields a cookie that’s a little less damaging on the teeth, so you can eat them without the need for pre-soaking in coffee, if that’s what you prefer.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Why "Cookistry"?

To me, cooking is a combination of art and science. You have to know some of the science -- if not why things happen, at least what things will probably happen -- when you combine ingredients and perhaps apply heat. Without the science, your cakes won't rise, your yeast will die and your roast will burn.

The art comes in when you start modifying recipes and inventing your own. Substituting rosemary for basil won't make your roast chicken burst into flames, but it will change the flavor. Whether the change is for the good depends on how much you happen to like rosemary in combination with the other ingredients in the dish, and later, on the same plate.

Art also comes into play with the presentation of a dish. Seriously, does anyone think red leaf lettuce tastes any different than green leaf lettuce? But it makes a salad look more interesting.

Even if you think you don't care about presentation, in the fancy-restaurant-stacking-and-garnishing sense, you probably do react differently to the "beige meal" of grilled chicken and mashed potatoes than you would to a meal that has some color and texture variations.

Yes, you can get carried away with presentation. To me, garnishes should serve to add flavor as well as color. And garnishes should be just that -- small touches. As I've commented in some restaurants that have gotten carried away with the garnish, "parsley is not meant to be a green vegetable."

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