Friday, April 30, 2010

Caramel Butter Rum Cheesecake

The last time I made cheesecake, it was a two-day project including homemade cookies for the cookie crumb crust. This time around I cheated completely by using a mix.

The mix I used was made by Wind & Willow, a brand I wasn't familiar with. But when I was in Cayenne Kitchen a while back, a fellow customer had commented about how good the cheesecake mix was, and I figured I'd give it a try the next time I wanted a cheesecake and I didn't want to go completely from scratch.

So I bought a box of the mix so I could make the cheesecake on a lazy day.

I already had the rest of the ingredients I needed: 1 stick of butter, 3 eggs, and 16 ounces of cream cheese.

The instructions were short and simple. Melt the butter and add it to the base mix along with one egg, press that into the bottom of a pan, saving 1/3 cup for crumbling on top. Mix the cheese and the other 2 eggs with the cheesecake mix and pour that on top of the crust.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gluten-Free Multigrain Sandwich Bread

It's probably obvious that I don't have gluten issues, but on the other hand, I'm not anti-gluten-free. Over the years, I've tried gluten-free baked goods, and I've even made gluten-free bread. I'll happily sample gluten-free products without prejudice.

But for the most part, my opinion of most of the gluten-free products I've tried is that they're good if you can't have gluten, but few of them impressed me enough that I'd choose them over similar wheat-based products.

Yes, I'm a wheataholic.

When a local woman, Mary Capone, launched a line of gluten-free mixes, Bella Gluten-Free, and was offering samples at Cayenne Kitchen, a local kitchen store, of course I had to try all of the samples.

It was quite a surprise. In a blind taste test, I doubt anyone would be able to pick out the multigrain sandwich bread as gluten free. And not only was it indistinguishable from yeast bread, it was actually tasty all by itself.

The last gluten-free bread I made would have been fine for sandwiches or slathered with something flavorful, but it didn't entice me to nibble. This was nibble-worthy.

It might have been the sesame seeds that tipped the balance, but I kept going back for more samples of the bread. So of course I had to get some mixes to test at home.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cream of Random Vegetable Soup

For dinner, I was in the mood for soup, so I looked around to see what needed to be used up. Into the pot went:

1 quart milk
1 pint water
6 peeled potatoes, cut in chunks
2 handfulls of sliced celery
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, sliced.
Salt

I poked around to see if there were any other likely vegetables. I momentarily considered carrots, but rejected that idea. The purple cauliflower was pretty, but I didn't think the color would help the soup. Ditto for the radicchio and the purple sweet potato.

If I had white or yellow cauliflower, cabbage, or red bell pepper, those probably would have gone into the soup. Asparagus would have been nice. Mushrooms would have been tasty. But I went with what I had.

I simmered the veggies in the milk/water mixture until they were soft, then whizzed them up with the stick blender. I added some buttermilk, cream, and homemade Greek-style yogurt that I had left over. Probably a half-cup of each, but I didn't measure. Let it all simmer gently and tasted again. Hmmm...something missing. I added a little bit of saffron, and that was it. Garnished and served.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

BOTD: Peanut Butter Graham Crackers

Ah, crispy flatbreads! That's pretty much what crackers are. And while some store-bought graham crackers can be oversweetened to the point where they begin to wander into the cookie aisle, the original graham crackers were developed as health food by the early 19th century diet reformer Sylvester Graham.

While today's graham crackers aren't the same as ones promoted by Graham, they're still a relatively healthy option, with lots of fiber from the whole wheat. But that's not why I eat them. As far as I'm concerned, graham crackers are given space in my pantry because they're the perfect vehicle for peanut butter. I'll admit to eating them plain or using them in the occasional pie crust once in a while, but the majority of graham crackers around here disappear under a smear of peanut butter. To me, that's the perfect quick and satisfying snack.

But why stop at putting peanut butter onto the graham crackers? Why not put some in the crackers as well?

Not too long ago, I decided to make some graham crackers, but I couldn't find a recipe that looked good. They all seemed to be too sweet or too austere, or the ingredients just didn't sound appealing. So I created my own recipe. While those were good, I knew that I'd be be back fiddling with the recipe to see what else I could do to make them different.

For this version I added smooth peanut butter, and the flour was a coarsely ground whole wheat flour that came from my local farmer's market. It's similar in texture to graham flour that I've bought before, but depending on the seller, graham flour can mean a number of different things. For the purposes of this recipe, any whole wheat flour should be fine, but white whole wheat would probably be a bit pale.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Banana Pumpkin Cookies

It's been a while since I've made these, but I was just reminded of them, so I thought I'd better post the recipe before I forgot about it again.

Although there's only one banana along with a lot more pumpkin, the banana is the dominant flavor. It's a great way to use up one lonely banana that's gotten a little past its prime, and it's something to keep in mind if you've got canned pumpkin left over from other recipes.

White chocolate chips add a nice sweetness without a strong flavor, while butterscotch or peanut butter chips add sweetness and some extra flavor. It's your choice.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

BOTD: Batter Bread? Oh, really?

I was paging through an old cookbook and ran across a recipe for something called Batter Bread. The introduction had the oh-so-common story about how this was the recipe that someone's elder relative had made, and how wonderful everyone thought it was.

It sounded interesting, but the recipe had a serious flaw. The instructions said the batter should be beaten by hand or with an electric mixer - the mixer no doubt being an update to the original recipe - but there was no way the dough in that recipe could have been beaten. I had calculated the liquid/flour ratio in the recipe, and the resulting dough would have been very kneadable and not at all a batter.

Either someone mis-translated someone's handwriting, or the elder relative used teacups and coffeecups as measures rather than using standard measuring cups. It also said the finished dough was poured from the bowl. Yeah, no way was this tested before it was published.

Since the recipe was so wrong about the batterlike consistency, I didn't trust the rest of the recipe, either. But that didn't stop me. If someone's elder relative made a yeast dough that was soft enough to beat by hand or with a hand mixer, and that dough could be poured into a loaf pan, certainly I could recreate it.

Certainly.

Okay, maybe not right away, but I had no doubt I could make something like it sooner or later.

My first version was interesting. One thing I learned was that trying to mix batter-like bread dough with a hand mixer might be more trouble than it's worth. The dough crawled up the beaters, and at anything over low speed, clumps of dough were flinging themselves all over me, the countertops, and the cabinets. Hand beating with a standard kitchen implement seemed easier and was much less messy.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Meatloaf Dinner

It was a rainy, snowy April day yesterday. Perfect for some comfort food. This was last night's dinner, and there will be easy leftovers tonight.

Meatloaf

Two pounds of good-quality ground beef; half an onion, finely diced; one egg; some homemade bread, moistened with some milk; an egg; a squeeze of ketchup; salt and pepper.

Mixed, formed and baked until done.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Six small/medium russet potatoes, peeled, cubed and simmered in nicely salted water with two cloves of garlic until done, then put through a ricer. Then, some butter was added and a couple glugs of buttermilk and a bit of salt.

Spinach

Sauteed in a bit of olive oil and then finished with a bit of salt and a bit of meyer lemon olive oil.

Friday, April 23, 2010

BOTD: Dark Rye - A New Secret Ingredient

A question recently came up on Serious Eats about dark rye breads, with a bit of discussion on how to get the really dark color and flavor of pumpernickel.

So what's the truth? Was caramel coloring the key? Are there darker rye flours? What is pumpernickel, anyway?

I searched the Internet and browsed my cookbooks and found a lot of recipes that required ingredients like expresso powder, caramel coloring, molasses, and chocolate. All those would make the bread darker, but I wondered if any were traditional or if they were just shortcuts to recreate the look of the old style bread.

Finally, I found a recipe for a traditional pumpernickel without the coloring agents. The key was that the bread baked for 12-16 hours. And the story that went along with it said that the traditional bread was made at the end of the baking day. Bread was put into the hot oven and left there overnight while the oven gradually cooled off, and the bread was done by morning.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Eating on the Farm

This was originally published in the Left Hand Valley Courier in 2009 as part of my Vicinity and Beyond series.

It was fun to write, fun to photograph, and it was a really great meal. And it was the ultimate "locovore" experience, since we were on a farm eating food that was cooked on-site and grown on that farm or on neighboring farms,

Farm Food

Buying and eating locally-grown food is becoming more and more popular, as people try to support local businesses, including local farms and farmers. What better way to get a taste of the farm than to eat right on the farm?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Kolaczki

When I was growing up, I thought of kolaczkis as as a Polish cookie….now I find out that they're probably Czech instead of Polish.

Another treasured childhood memory crushed under the boot-heels of reality.

But never mind, they're still good cookies and all the good Polish delis and had them.

Don't let all the extra text worry you. The directions are actually pretty simple. I just write a lot.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

BOTD: Babcia Bread, the final version

I know, I just posted an almost final version of this bread, but since then, it's been nagging me. The color was off, and the taste wasn't quite what I was looking for. And the crust was too light.

I figured that an additional egg would correct the color, but of course the extra moisture would throw everything else off, so there was more tweaking to be done.

And although the previous bread was good as its own enitity, it wasn't a complete recreation of the original. So it was back to the kitchen one more time, A few more tweaks, and this version got an enthusiastic "oh yeah" from my primary taste tester.

Since raisins were never part of the finished bread that Babcia made, I eliminated it as an option in this final version.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Grow Your Own!

This first appeared in the Left Hand Valley Courier in 2007 as part of my Vicinity And Beyond series.

Botanical Interests sells seeds nationwide through garden centers and similar businesses. Seeds varieties include edible and non-edible flowers, herbs and vegetables, and even sprouts and microgreens. If you want to grow some your own food, you don't have to look much further. And of you don't have garden space, or even room for some containers, you've can still grow sprouts.

The company recently started selling seeds online and just produced its first catalog. I had heard that things had changed at the company itself, so I recently went back for another visit.

The office area has been remodeled, including a new cafeteria for the employees, and there are now photos of all the employees gracing the walls. Another wall showcases photos that customers have sent of the plants and flowers growing in their own gardens.

Also new is an area where seeds are started for employees to take home for their own gardens. Coming soon are some redesigned seed packets. The watercolor designs will stay, but the packets are getting just a bit of an upgrade, including a better way of distinguishing which seeds are certified as organic.

But the old article is still timely. As we creep into planting season, it's interesting to take a look at one of the companies that handles the seeds that you might plant this spring that will bring food to your table later in the year.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

BOTD: Babcia Bread

“Babcia” means grandmother in Polish, and this is a bread that my husband’s grandmother would make for holidays and family gatherings. It was one that my husband particularly liked when he was growing up, but we thought the recipe had been lost forever.

Rewind a few years, and Grandma had been staying with her son (my husband's uncle) and while she was there, he translated and transcribed some of her recipes. Uncle belonged to a Polish social club that was putting together a club cookbook, and he submitted Grandma's recipes to the project.

When Uncle found out that I liked to cook, he sent us a copy of the cookbook. Much to my surprise, I found a recipe called "Polish Sweet Bread" with Grandma's name on it. I decided to give it a try, and immediately hit a few snags.

It's one thing to be able to cook something from memory when you've done it a million times. It's another thing to tell someone the recipe when you're not standing at the stove. Add to that the onset of Alzheimer's and the inevitable translation errors, and what I had in my hands was an incomplete and confusing recipe.

I forged on. First, I cut the recipe down to a managable size. Then I matched the ingredients with the instructions. Then I baked and tweaked and fiddled some more.

My husband recognized the bread immediately, and my mother-in-law said that it was one of the better versions of her mother's bread. Since it had never been written down before, the bread Grandma made always varied from batch to batch, but everyone agreed that this was undoubtedly one of the versions.

That updated recipe appeared in the November, 2008, edition of the Left Hand Valley Courier, in a special section of recipes submitted by the staff.

Since then, I've nailed down the ingredients and instructions a little bit better. For instance, Grandma's instructions say, "knead about 20 minutes," and she's not talking about using a stand mixer. I've adapted it to the stand mixer, with a few more clues about what it should look like when it's done. And I've given it a few of my own tweaks, as well. It's still Grandma's bread, but now it's also my recipe.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Ginger-Sesame Salad Dressing

This salad dressing is very similar to a dressing that was served at a teppanyaki restaurant we used to go to years ago. This isn't the restaurant's recipe, but as far as I can remember, this tastes very much like it.

This recipe makes a little less than a quart of dressing. The ketchup or tomato paste is completely optional, but without it, the dressing is a pale tan color which isn't as appealing as the pale pink that you'll get with the tomato product added.

Ginger-Sesame Salad Dressing

1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon salt
1/8 cup sugar
4 ounces (1/2 of a small can) pineapple with its juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 1/4 ounce piece of fresh ginger, peeled
1/2 package silken tofu
Tomato paste or ketchup (optional) for color

Put all ingredients in a blender and blend well.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Mead-Making

After digging around in the Left Hand Valley Courier archives for more of my food-related writing, I ran across this one from way back in 2003.

Since then, Medovina has grown quite a bit, and has won some notable national awards. Yet it remains a family operation, and still produces mead on a very small scale.

The lastest news from the meadery was the opening of a tasting room in 2009, where guests can sample meads and get a tour of the operation.

What’s the Buzz in Niwot?
The buzz could be the half-million or so bees tended by Mark Beren of Niwot. Over the winter, that number drops dramatically, but in the height of the season, each of Beren’s nine hives is home to anywhere from 50-80,000 little honey-producing striped “pets.” And according to Beren, bees are fun.

Despite the roughly 150-300 pounds of honey that Beren harvests annually from each hive, he’s not in the business of selling honey. And he certainly isn’t eating it all himself. Instead, he turns that sticky sweetness into alcohol in the form of mead, a honey-based wine.

In a 300 square foot room in Beren’s house sits the cooking and fermentation and bottling part of the business. A root cellar next to the house has been converted to a wine cellar. And a few plants here and there contribute flavorings. All of it together gives Beren his "perfect blend of art and engineering and science," as he described the business and the process.Because Beren’s winemaking business is “too big to use a home process and too small to use a commercial process,” he uses custom equipment. He currently has two 2 1/2 barrel fermentation tanks, with plans to increase to 6 tanks in the future. The nine hives may grow to as many as 20, with friends offering to become foster bee-parents. All that adds up to a yield of 3000-6000 bottles per year.

Bee Colony Collapse

Bees have been in the news, and on food blogs, because not only do we eat the honey, but we need the bees to polinate our crops.Way back in 2007, I wrote this article for the Left Hand Valley Courier.

A Bitter Sweet Taste Of Honey

Bees have been in the news lately. Some reports say that whole colonies are dying in what has been dubbed “colony collapse,” while swarms are annoying residents by being in the wrong place.

Tom Theobald of Niwot Honey Farm said that colony collapse isn’t a new thing. “My take on this is that we’ve known about the problems for many years, but they haven’t been addressed.”

According to Theobald, “This has been a steep decline.” As many as 60 percent of the managed colonies in Colorado were lost between 1990 and 2000.

Mark Beren of Medovina in Niwot raises bees and uses the honey to make mead, a honey-based wine. “Nobody knows exactly what is causing colony collapse,” he said.

There are several theories, including the widespread use of cell phones, the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the use of pesticides.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

BOTD: Walnut-Apricot Bread

People often ask me how I come up with the unusual flavors in some of my breads. Sometimes I'm trying to create a particular flavor profile, and sometimes it's a matter of being creative with what I have on hand. In this case, someone had given me a bag of raw walnuts and seeing them on the kitchen counter got me thinking about ways to use them up.

Bread was the obvious answer, but what sort of bread? I wasn't in the mood for sweet, sticky, chunky, nutty rolls. When I thought about the flavor of walnuts, I decided they would add an interesting flavor component to a loaf of bread without overwhelming it. Since I didn't want obvious hunks of walnut, I decided to grind them to a paste.

Rather than adding sugar, I decided that a natural sweetness would be nice. I had Turkish apricots left over from something else, and the combination sounded appealing to me. I used exactly 14 dried apricots, because that's what I on hand had at the time. As with the walnuts, I decided that I wanted them incorporated into the dough as completely as possible, so they went into the food processor with the walnuts.

The resulting bread has a beautiful mahogany crust, and a subtle walnut flavor. It's not sweet at all; perfectly appropriate plain, with a little butter, or for a sandwich. I think it's particularly tasty with cream cheese, and it would make a great base for an appetizer with cream cheese and thin slices of cucumber.








Wednesday, April 14, 2010

BOTD: Harvest Grains, Part 2

Last time I used the Harvest Grains Blend from King Arthur Flour, I soaked the grains overnight to help soften them in this recipe. This time, I decided to use a more forceful method on them, and whizzed them up in the food processor. The result wasn't a smooth flour by any means, but the pieces were much, much smaller and there was a good bit of powdery stuff as well.

Since I already dirtied the food processor, I decided to use it my make my dough. I usually use my stand mixer, but variety is the spice of life, or so they say.

This version of the bread didn't expand as much as I expected. The resulting loaf was a bit small, but it had nice color and it did have some oven-spring, as you can see by the size of the slashes. This wasn't a fluffy loaf, by any means, but it wasn't overly dense, either. It was hearty and a little chewy, much like a rye, and the interior color is rye-like as well.

Overall, it was a good loaf of bread, and the flavor of the multi-grains was nice, but it didn't make me leap up and dance with joy. It's good with a little butter and will be fine with sandwiches, but this isn't a loaf that I'm going to go back to and nibble on all day long.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Your Butcher, Frank

When I first moved to this town, I was pleased to see that a real butcher shop existed. And I love the quirky name: Your Butcher, Frank. While I often lament the unavailability of many items that were availble to me in Chicago, places like Your Butcher, Frank help make up for those lost items.

When I started writing my "Vicinity and Beyond" column in the Left Hand Valley Courier, Your Butcher, Frank was the first place I visited. This is that first column, published in June, 2004. Today, Your Butcher, Frank is still going strong, and I still shop there. So even though the article is beyond old, the message is the same.

To Vicinity and Beyond

As much as you like your neighborhood, there are times when you must venture beyond to visit friends, buy things that aren't available locally, or just stretch your horizons. While you're out, why not take a look around with the Courier, and see what's in the vicinity.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Lamb, Two Ways

Every year, I buy a whole lamb so I can have it on hand any time I want it. Buying a whole lamb is cheaper than buying the occasional high-end parts, even after I pay for the whole lamb plus the processing free. Even better, I get all the parts, so I've got a good selection of tender bits and stew-worthy meat. And I get some odd cuts that never show up in grocery stores.

So when lamb was on the menu recently, and I decided to make it two different ways: racks and meatballs.

No exact recipes for either version, but here's how it went.

The racks (4 bones each) were seasoned, then seared in a hot pan. Then I brushed them with mixture of dijon mustard and honey, then covered that with some fresh bread crumbs.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Cheese!

This article was originally published in 2006 in the Left Hand Valley Courier as part of my Vicinity And Beyond series.

This Is Pretty Cheesy

You’ve surely heard the cliché that you need to take someone’s words with a grain of salt? Clara White’s words may need to be taken with saltines. Or rye crisps. Or water crackers. And maybe sip of wine. You see, White and her brother Sam are the owners of the Cheese Importers Gourmet Warehouse in Longmont.

Contrary to what you might have read elsewhere, the Cheese Warehouse is most emphatically not leaving Longmont. “We love Longmont,” White said. “We love the community.”

Confusion may be because the Cheese Warehouse is opening a second retail location in Lafayette, and the wholesale warehouse has already moved there. But the retail store will stay in Longmont. Indeed, White is considering a move from the current industrial-ish location on Pratt Parkway to a more visible spot in or near downtown.

Location locomotion aside, it’s all about the cheese. When asked what her favorite was, White said, “It’s like picking your favorite child.” While she couldn’t narrow it down to just one cheese, she was very clear that the business focuses on small cheese suppliers and family farms that don’t use synthetic growth hormones on their livestock.

Like any doting parent who can’t choose a favorite, White had no trouble extolling the virtues of the individual cheeses. Halloumi was one of the first cheeses she mentioned. It’s a mild white cheese that bills itself as “the cheese that grills.” Indeed, you can even fry this cheese in a dry pan, and it won’t melt or get gooey, but it will soften and get a nice brown crust.

Another one she pointed out was the “Drunken Goat,” so named because it’s a goat cheese that “takes a bath” in wine, giving the exterior a distinctive color.

Another cheese with an interesting color is ColoRouge, a soft cheese with an orange exterior. This one is made in Fort Collins, but even closer to home, the warehouse carries cheeses from Haystack Mountain including another one of White’s favorites: Snowdrop.

White offered samples of a variety of cheeses, pairing some of them with mustard-like condiments, fruit preserves, and of course, crackers. Indeed, there’s a lot more than cheese to be found here, including “Chocolami,” a play on the words “chocolate salami” that is something like fudge.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Pave Potatoes

When I say the photo of Pave Potatoes in Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc At Home, I knew I had to try them.

The recipe is simple in concept, but execution was a little complicated. The ingredients are much like scalloped potatoes, but technique makes the dish.

First, potatoes are sliced thinly and evenly on a mandoline, dropped into a bowl with cream, salt, and pepper, and then trimmed and placed in neat layers into pan with a bit of butter and extra seasoning every few layers...

After I was done, I realized that the tedious potato trimming could have been mostly avoided if I had squared off the potato to begin with. But that's okay. It worked out.

The second odd thing was that the recipe specificed a 9 x 6 1/2 pan that was 3 inches high. And it says that it has to be at least 3 inches high; a shorter pan won't do. I went though my cabinets measuring pans, and the closest I found was a 9 x 5 loaf pan that was a little shorter than 3 inches. I worried that it wouldn't be tall enough, so I didn't peel and slice all the potatoes that I had weighed for the recipe. But it ended up that I had plenty of space, so I ended up peeling and slicing more.

The layered potatoes went into the dish, and they carried most of the cream with them. Hmmmm... what to do with the rest? The recipe didn't say, so I poured that on top of the potatoes.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Vanilla Ice Cream Base (with a cheat!)

While I prefer to cook everything from scratch as much as possible, there are times when a shortcut or two can make my day a little easier. In every big dinner, there are some starring roles, some supporting side dishes, and a bit player or two.

I think it's wise to spend my time with the items that are going to have the greatest impact, so I'm fine with opening a bag of salad rather than triple-washing the gritty baby greens from the market if that allows me to create a spectacular cake or complicated main dish.

When it comes to dessert, ice cream is often on the menu in warm weather. Sometimes it's the star, in which case I'm willing to invest the time in doing elaborate things. But if ice cream is the bit player next to the fancy pie or cake, then I'm fine with a little shortcut or two. After all, it's still a home-churned ice cream. We don't need to tell anyone that I didn't start off with a real custard.

This simple base is also the perfect blank slate for adding things in. The last time I made it, I mixed in some caramel sauce as I scooped it into a container for hardening.

The vanilla butternut flavoring is completely optional, but I like it a lot in ice cream. It adds a buttery and just slightly nutty flavor to the ice cream without being intrusive. It's like amped up vanilla.

I've tried different brands of half-and-half, and the one you choose does make a difference. If this isn't creamy enough, consider subbing some heavy cream for some of the half-and-half. This recipe is the perfect size for the ice cream freezer bowl for my KitchenAid stand mixer. Make sure this is the correct amount for whatever freezer you are using.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Cayenne (Kitchen) is Hot!

I was digging though my Left Hand Valley Courier articles to see if I'd missed reposting any food related ones, and I was surprised that I hadn't grabbed this one from my Vicinity and Beyond column in the November 2008 edition. It's not very relevant to people outside the local area, but Cayenne Kitchen is my favorite shop in town, so I have to include it here.

Besides being a great place for me to shop, I think it's also great for the town. And the owners are just plain nice people.

I was at the store on opening day to write this original piece, and I was there for the grand reopening and ribbon cutting on August 1, 2009, when the store moved out of the little house that was overflowing with great products and into a spacious new storefront on Main Street.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

BOTD: Caraway (Stone-Ground) Rye

When I'm thinking ahead, I'll start making my bread dough the night before I'm planning on baking. Over the years, I've found that it's particularly useful to let alternative flours (anything except white flour) spend that extra time hydrating, particularly the coarse-ground or whole-grain flours. The extra time gives those rough flours more of a chance to soak up the water and get a little softer.

There are a lot of different rye flours available, including light rye, medium rye and pumpernickel flour. However, my local grocery chains tend to have one brand and one type, and that's stone-ground rye. It's a coarser, grittier rye than most of the others that I buy online, but it still makes a nice bread. If your local markets have other varieties of rye flour, use what's available or what you like best.

When I have it on hand, I use whey instead of water in my bread dough, but it's completely optional. The whey I use is left over from making yogurt or cheese, so it's not something that I go out and buy. If I don't have it, I use water, and that's a perfectly acceptable substitute. The benefit to using whey is the additional nutrients, but also that the whey is a bit acidic, and yeast likes an acid environment.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Veggie Nests with Mushroom Eggs

Sometimes I get an idea stuck in my head until I have to try it.

In this case, it was all about making nests out of carrots and putting in mushrooms to represent the eggs. The more I thought about it, the more complicated it became.

First, I added on green beans as the grassy base for the nests. Then, instead of just carrots, I also used zucchini for a little color contrast.

And the veggies weren't merely shredded, I used a spiral vegetable slicer that essentially turns innocent vegetables into long strands, like spaghetti.

And of course, this wasn't salad, so all of this had to be cooked. Of course. And whole green beans, carrots, zucchini and mushrooms all cook at different rates and the mushrooms were cooked with a different method. It was vegetable madness, I tell you.

And then I served it on a leaf-shaped green platter. Interesting presentation, except that the green beans are almost the same color as the platter.

At least I reatrained myself from frenching the green beans. Because that really would have been a crazy thing to do.

Monday, April 5, 2010

BOTD: White Potato-Egg Sandwich Bread

I love to experiment with bread recipes, sometimes adding odd ingredients, sometimes messing with the technique, and sometimes just playing with the usual ingredients. I use semolina flour in most of my white breads because I like the depth of flavor it gives the loaf.

In this bread, instant mashed potatoes create a softer, fluffier texture. I almost always use them in dinner rolls for that reason. The instant potatoes I buy are little more than dehydrated cooked potatoes, with no strange preservatives, chemicals or flavors. Oddly, they're the cheap store brand. The downside to this brand is that the potatoes are nuggets rather than flakes, so it takes them a little more time to hydrate than the flakes.

Most of the time, I add olive oil to my bread; this time I figured that the egg and yogurt fulfilled that role.

The resulting bread is a very pale yellow, and very soft and fluffy with just a hint of flavor from the egg.

Beet it!

If you hate beets, this recipe isn't for you. If you hate bright pink, you're doomed, too. But if you like beets and you like borscht, you might like this. I came up with this when I was on a "deconstructed" kick, where I was taking components of things and reimagining them in different forms.

Borscht, when I was growing up, was always served with sour cream to mix in as you desired, and with diced cucumbers to drop in for a fresh crunch in the soup. So I thought, "Why not combine these ingredients into a salad?" Thus, the borscht salad was born.

Borscht Salad
Beets, cooked, peeled, and cubed
Cucumbers, peeled, seeded and cubed
Sour cream
salt and pepper, to taste

The ratio of beets to cucumber is up to you. Since the cukes were the garnish to the soup, I like to use about 3/4 beets and 1/4 cucumber. Add as much sour cream as you like, and season to taste. You could go wild ad add some chopped onion, but I don't think it's necessary.

And if you aren't fond of cucumbers, you can use zucchini as well. Once the sour cream is mixed in and it turns a vivid pink, it doesn't matter much, except that the zuccini absorb the beet color faster than the cucumbers do.

BOTD: White Whole Wheat Loaf Bread

The stand mixer was otherwise occupied, so I kneaded this one in the food processor.

2 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 cup bread flour
1/4 cup instant mashed potatoes
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast (one package)
2 tablespoons honey crystals (or sugar)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups cool water

Put everything except the water into the food processor and let it spin. Pour the water in through the feed tube as fast as the dough can take it in, and continue processing until it forms a ball.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

About CSAs

This article was first published in the April issue of the Left Hand Valley Courier.

This is a general article about CSAs, and the more I researched, the more differences I found in how they run. After this was written, one local farmer told me that his CSA allows consumers to choose their own produce from what he has available, which is quite different from the farms that pack boxes for CSA members. I'm sure there are other variables well.

There have been several discussions about CSA on the Serious Eats website, and it's always a lively discussion. For some people, it's an easy way to get fresh veggies every week, while others have been less happy with their choices. Some people said the veggies in the CSA boxes seemed to be lower quality than the ones from the same farms at the markets. Others found that the CSA boxes had better produce and also might get the items in short supply. Others found that even the small shares could be too much of some types of produce, or they didn't like some of what they recieved, and felt it was a waste. Still others liked the adventure of having a mystery box every week.

On the other hand, some people simply liked the idea of shopping at a farmer's market and buying from multiple farmers rather than supporting a single farmer. And of course, there's the fact that some farms may not grow all the types of produce a customer might want. Or, they might plant it, but the crops could fail. So a trip to a farmer's market might be in order once in a while, even if you join a CSA.

In the end, if you're thinking about joining a CSA, you need to do a bit of research. Because in the end, they're all very different from each other.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Taste Test: Chocolate Chips

When it comes to chocolate chips, I always used to grab the Nestle's semisweet, because those were the most common ones when I was first learning how to bake. They're familiar. Which is comforting.

But lately, I've been trying different brands, buying them randomly as I need more chips...but that's not a good comparison. Every one I've tried has been good, but the question really is whether one is really better than the others. To do that, a side-by-side taste test of the plain chips seemed to be in order.

It's a tough job, but I think I'm up for the task.And I found another willing volunteer as well.

From left to right, here we have Guittard, Ghirardelli, and Nestle's chips:


Friday, April 2, 2010

Great Harvest Bread Company

This was first published in the April, 2006 issue of the Left Hand Valley Courier in my "Vicinity and Beyond" column, where I visit local businesses of interest and write about my experiences. Since I do bake all my own breads, it was interesting to see how these were made on a larger scale. But it's still small batch baking compared to the loaves in the grocery store.

Nice Buns!

To me, bread is almost magical. Take some flour and some water, add some yeast (or for sourdough, wait for it to just appear), knead it for a while and soon it changes from lumpy and sticky to smooth and elastic. Leave it sit around for a while and it grows.

It’s even more fun than that. Flavor it with herbs or cheese or seeds. Shape it, stick it in a pan or bake it on a sheet. Slash the top with pretty patterns. The varieties are endless. And the good news is that you can have fresh-baked bread, without the need for you doing any kneading.

Great Harvest Bread Company in Longmont bakes bread daily “from the best possible ingredients” according to Matt Stanek, who owns the franchise with his wife, Marin.

The bread contains no preservatives and is made from scratch each day. Even without preservatives, the bread has a long shelf life – Stanek said that the honey whole wheat bread will last seven to 10 days.

In a back room is a grain mill with stone grinding wheels that can turn 180 pounds of wheat berries into whole wheat flour in about 45 minutes. Giant mixing bowls hold enough dough for 50 loaves of bread at a time, and there’s a mixer to do the work. The oven looks deceptively small until you realize the trays rotate.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Peanut Butter Malted Milk Balls

A bulk food store, Simply Bulk, opened nearby, and of course I had to see what was available.

I ogled the cashews and macamias, bought some herbal tea, and spent some time checking out the variety of grains and flours.

It's going to be nice to be able to buy just a little bit of odd items instead of committing to a two- or five-pound bag.

Even better, since this isn't a massive grocery store, I'm betting there's going to be more supervision of the bins, so it's less likely I'll see toddlers roaming around on their own and playing in the quinoa like it's a sandbox.

I took a peek at the candy section, but didn't expect to find anything appealing. But, wait, here's something interesting. Large dark shiny spheres that claim to be peanut butter malted milk balls. I had to try them. I scooped up a small bag of them, and it wasn't long before I sampled. Chocolate, peanut butter, and malted milk flavor mingled nicely.

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