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.

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

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.

There's not a massive amount of peanut butter in these, so the effect is subtle in terms of peanut flavor. However, the peanut butter adds a nice richness to the crackers.

I've given instructions using a stand mixer, but this could be done with a sturdy hand mixer, although it's prettty dense at the end. Or mix by hand. It doesn't have to be kneaded, just mixed really well.

For those who've requested it, I'm making an effort at both measuring and weighing the flour.
Peanut Butter Graham Crackers

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup peanut butter
3 1/4 cups (14.25 oz.) whole wheat flour
1/2 cup water
Additional flour, for rolling

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter, sugar and maple syrup with the paddle attachment until the mixture is light. Scrape down the bowl as needed.

Add the salt, baking soda, vanilla, and peanut butter and beat well.

Add the flour in thirds, alternating with the water, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat until well combined and it can form a cohesive ball.

Remove the dough from the bowl, wrap it in plastic (or put it in a plastic bag) and let it rest in the fridge overnight.

When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line three cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Divide the dough into 3 pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll the first piece to a rectangle of about 10x12 inches, then move the dough to the first  parchment-lined cookie sheet..

With a pastry cutter (for a zigzag edge) or a pizza wheel or knife, trim the edges of the dough so that it's straight and square. Cut it lengthwise so you've got two 5x12 pieces, and then make three cuts in the other direction, so you've got 8 pieces that are about 3x5 inches. If you want to be precise, measure. If you like the homemade look, just eyeball the cuts.

There's no need to separate the pieces, you'll break them apart later.

If you want graham crackers that can be easily cracked into smaller pieces, score the pieces, but don't cut all the way through. Last, use a fork to poke holes in each piece. A decorative pattern is nice, or just poke a few holes. Repeat the rolling and cutting with the other pieces of dough.

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the crackers begin to brown just a little. Let them cool on the cookie sheet before breaking off the ragged edges you trimmed (these are a treat for the baker) and then break them into crackers.

The crackers will be soft when you take them out of the oven, but they should harden to a crackery crispness as they cool.

If they don't harden, you can pop them back into the oven for a few more minutes of baking.

Let them cool and dry out completely before storing them in any sort of closed bag or container. If they're completely dry and crispy, they'll store well for a long time, just like any cracker.

They look good, don't they?

This recipe was also published on Serious Eats.

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.

Banana Pumpkin Cookies

1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 egg
1 overripe mashed banana
canned pumpkin added to banana to make 1 cup
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cups white chocolate, butterscotch, or peanut butter chips

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg, banana, pumpkin, and vanilla. Add dry ingredients to the wet, and mix well. Add the white chocolate chips and mix to distribute.

Drop onto cookie sheets. Bake 350 for 15 minutes for teaspoon-sized cookies. Adjust baking time for larger cookies.

Cookies will the lightly browned, but still soft when done..

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Batter Bread

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 batter-like 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.


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.

Of course, the cookbook didn't give any instructions as far as how much beating was necessary, so that little detail was part of the learning experience.

The directions in the cookbook did include instructions to stir it down the dough once before baking, much like you'd punch down a regular dough. That seemed to make sense in terms of flavor development, but I wasn't convinced the the timing in the recipe made sense. Yet another thing to experiment with.

For baking Version 1, I generously sprinkled cornmeal on the bottom of a small loaf pan and poured the batter in. I started second-guessing my decision to just put cornmeal on the bottom of the pan rather than using a baking spray for extra insurance. But, too late. It was in the pan.

The object that came out of the oven was bread-like. There was some rise, but not much. And unfortunately, it didn't want to come out of the pan. Some chiseling along the sides and some ripping got it out of the pan in two pieces big piece and some ragged bits, The interior had holes, but I'd have a hard time calling it a successful bread.

It didn't taste horrible, but presentation points were lost, for sure. But it gave me some ideas as to what needed to be changed.

Version Two was much more successful. The bread rose nicely in the pan and grew even further in the oven. And since I used baking spray and cornmeal inside the entire loaf pan, a good thump got the bread out of the pan.

Still, not a great bread. Not even a good bread. But unlike the first version, it was recognizable as bread, so it was getting better. If you want a comparison, it was like a generic version of beer bread. It was okay, but not something you'd get excited about making a second time.

Version Three featured some adjustments in ingredients and a slight adjustment in technique. It rose nicely in the pan and a bit more in the oven. The color was nice and the bread itself had more flavor. It was a good(ish) bread, but still not good enough for me.

This version is one that falls into the category I call "It tastes better toasted." I picked up this little phrase from someone else, and it doesn't really mean what it sounds like. While many breads take on extra flavor while toasted, that's not what this is about. The translation actually is, "It's not that good plain, but it becomes edible when it is toasted."

This bread wasn't quite that bad. It was edible plain, but just not great. Toasted, the bread was pretty good. Something like an English muffin, in terms of nooks and crannies (particularly when I broke the bread with fork instead of slicing with a knife), but not the same density. But toasted, with a little butter, I wouldn't have been embarrased to serve it along with some scrambled eggs.

Still, I don't want to make a bread that has to be toasted to reach its potential. So while this one was servicable breakfast bread for a few days, tweaking was still necessary.

Version Four's new addition was semolina flour. I like the depth of flavor that semolina adds to regular white breads, and this bread needed some depth. I also tweaked the beating method one more time.

In the previous versions, I tried hand beating with a fork and a wooden spoon and a silicone spatula. The wooden spoon was the best option, but once the dough started developing its gluten, hand beating became much more difficult. It's possible to make this bread by hand with a wooden spoon, but it's a lot of work.

I also tried beating with an electric mixer. It worked well enough at the beginning, when I was working with a dough that could have been a cake batter. But again, once the gluten started developing, it got more difficult as the dough gathered around the mixer's beaters and climbed up. Increasing speed simply caused the dough to fling off the beaters. The answer was to beat slowly, which is doable but tedious.

I finally decided that while the original bread might have been manually beaten, it made more sense to take advantage of the modern appliances I own. I opted to use my stand mixer with the paddle attachment. And to cut down on the need to scrape the bowl, I used the paddle attachment with the rubber scrapers. If I'm going to go modern, I might as well go all the way.

Finally it's bread. This version looks a lot more like a dough-based bread with a little bit of doming on top. And the bread slipped easily out of the pan, with nary a protest.

And it tastes pretty good, too.

Batter Bread

1 cup semolina flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon butter

Mix all the dry ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer.

Put buttermilk and butter into a microwave-proof bowl, and microwave gently until the butter has melted and the buttermilk is just warmed. Add the 1/2 cup of water, adjusting the temperature so the liquid is lukewarm. If it's a little too warm, let cool. If it's too cool, warm it up in the microwave.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix thoroughly. Let stand for 15 minutes, then beat with the padde attachment of your stand mixer. You've no doubt seen instructions for cakes that tell you not to overmix. This is your chance to see the overmixing process in action.

At first the dough will be like a cake batter, but as you beat, the gluten will begin to develop and you'll see the dough starting to come together and stretch. Keep beating. Eventually, the dough will start to gather around the paddle. It will slump down off the paddle when you stop the mixer, but will gather again when the mixer is running.

When it's done, the dough should be smooth, glossy, and very very stretchy.

Spray an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 loaf pan with baking spray and sprinkle liberally with cornmeal. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest for 1 hour.

After one hour, stir it down, cover the bowl with plastic wrap again, and let it rest an additional 1/2 hour.

After the half hour, stir it down again, and pour it into your prepared loaf pan.

Cover the pan with plastic wrap and let it rise until it is just below the top of the pan, about an hour.

If the plastic drapes down inside the pan, it will stick to the dough and it doesn't release easily. However, you can remove the plastic for the last 10 or 15 minutes of the rise, if need be. This is a very wet dough, so it's not going to dry out much in that time.

On the other hand, the lumpy top isn't a big deal. It adds some character to the finished loaf.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Remove the bread from the pan and let it cool completely on a rack before cutting.

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.


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.


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

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.

Since a home oven is probably going to lose heat a lot faster, there was an adapted recipe that called for starting at one temp, turning the oven down after a certain amount of time, then turning it off later and letting the bread coast along for the rest of the time.

So...that's a project for another day.

Coincidentally,I had an interesting ingredient that I found at a new store that opened in town - The Bald Brewer - a brewing supply store for people who want to make their own beer and wine. Friendly little place, with an array of grains used to make beer. Hmmmm...wheat, barley, varieties I'd never seen sold for baking.

Of course I had to take home some samples, and among them was a dark roasted barley called Pearl Black. It was dark. It smelled like roasted coffee with a hint of chocolate.

I pulled out my rye sourdough starter and let it brew and bubble for a while until my jar was full, feeding and watering as needed. Then I scooped most of it out of the jar and into the bowl of my KitchenAid mixer, where I kept feeding until it looked like I had about as much as I wanted. Sorry, no measurements, I was just eyeballing and experimenting.

I added a cup of bread flour and enough water to make a reasonable dough, then added a tablespoon of the Black Pearl barley that I had ground to a fine powder, and kneaded it with the dough hook. I added a shy teaspoon of salt and kept kneading until I had sufficient gluten development.

I put it in a bowl, drizzled a little olive oil over, and let it sit. When it had risen, I punched it down and realized I wasn't going to have time to bake, so it went back into the bowl and into the fridge.

Next day, I took it out of the fridge, punched down again, formed it into a nice ball and plopped it into my rising basket that was liberally sprinkled with rice flour. I covered it and let it rise, but then realized that I wasn't going to have time for the full rise and bake, so I put the basket in the fridge...until the next day.

I pulled it out of the fridge and let it warm up and finish rising while I preheated the oven to 350 degrees. When it was fully risen (a poke with a finger left an indent) I turned it out onto a piece of parchment paper on my peel, then slid the bread, with parchment, onto my baking stone in the oven.

It was a small loaf, so it baked for about 40 minutes. Pulled it out and let it cool completely on a rack.

The bread was dark and the flavor had a nice tang from the long fermentation and a nice malty-roasty flavor from the barley. It wasn't as deep brown as some dark breads I've seen, but the addition of molasses or one of the other coloring agents surely would have put it over that edge. Also, I was using a standard rye rather than a dark rye, so that would have made a difference as well.

Obviously, it's not a true pumpernickel. It's not even an American pumpernickel. But it's a nice dark rye with an interesting flavor. Next time I'll do some measuring. Meanwhile, if there's a brewing store near you, check out the available grains. You might find something that would be an interesting addition to bread.

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


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.

Kolaczki (ko-lotch-key)
Makes 3-4 dozen

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 t salt
1 cup vegetable shortening (i.e. Crisco)
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temp.
1/2 cup powdered sugar
About 1/4 cup fruit preserves, thick jam, etc.
More powdered sugar for dusting

Combine flour and salt.

In a separate, large bowl, beat the veg. shortening, cream cheese, and powered sugar until smooth.

Add flour mixture in thirds, and blend well.

Cover (or wrap) dough. You might want to divide it in half or thirds, depending on how fast you can work with the dough, and how big your cookie sheets are. You need the dough to stay chilled until it goes into the oven. Refrigerate dough for 8 hours or overnight.

When the dough has chilled: preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Now it's decision-making time. If you're making these in small batches, have some patience, and have the time to do it right, you can make the cookies in what I consider the "traditional" form: Flour your board (or counter) and roll the dough to about the thickness of a piecrust. Cut the dough into strips 2 1/2 to 3 inches wide, then cut the strips into squares. Put a bit of your preserves in the center of the squares and then fold up the points to barely meet in the center. You don't want it tightly closed; you want people to see the jam peeking out. Some people will only fold two opposing corners, leaving the other two open.

The "traditional" method can be tricky, because the dough needs to stay cold, and if you're not good at rolling and cutting, you end up with the dough stuck to the board…and you don't want to add any more flour than you need to in order to keep it from sticking. And sometimes the cookies will move while they're cooking, so one or more corners might flop down. Transfer the cookies to an ungreased cookie sheet and bake...

The easier method is to take a spoonful of dough (tablespoon-ish -- it depends on how big you want the cookies to be. You can make them smaller, but you don't want them too large), form it into a ball, and set it on an ungreased cookie sheet (or just plop it on the cookie sheet, a round, free-form thing) and indent the center of the cookie with your finger to form a well for the fruit. Then just fill the wells, and you're ready to bake.

If the dough starts to get warm while you're rolling the balls, you can put the cookie sheet in the refrigerator while for a while. If you're fast enough that you're forming cookies faster than the batches bake, put the finished cookie sheets and the dough in the refrigerator to keep it chilled while you're not working with it. It really makes a difference.

Bake for 8-12 minutes. They just barely begin to brown on the bottom, and with the "traditional" shape you may see some browning on the edges; don't expect them to get very brown. It's a fine line between done and the filling boiling over. It doesn't ruin the cookies if the filling boils, but someone's got to clean the cookie sheet.

Let them cool a bit on the cookie sheets; they're very fragile before they're cool. Dust with powered sugar, then move to racks to complete the cooling. If you're going to re-use the same cookie sheets, make sure they're completely cooled before you put your new dough on them.

About the preserves: You can use any thick jam or preserves you like. It can't be too thin or it will run out and burn on the pan.

Cherry, raspberry and plum were pretty typical when I was growing up, but whatever you have on hand, or that you like, will be fine. For something non-traditional, I like lemon curd.

Cookie shapes/sizes: I find that these are best in a size that you can eat in one or two bites. If you want larger cookies, the "traditional" shape works better as a larger cookie, if you can manage the dough at that size.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Polish Sweet Bread (Chleb Drozdzowy)

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.

\Babcia Bread
AKA Polish Sweet Bread
(Chleb Drozdzowy)

1 stick butter
1/2 cup milk
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 package) yeast
3 3/4 cups AP flour, divided
3 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla

Put milk and butter into microwave-safe container and heat to melt the butter. The milk shouldn't boil, it should be just warm enough to melt the butter. Cool (if needed) to lukewarm.

Put the liquid mixture into the bowl of your stand mixer, add the yeast and 1 cup of flour, and mix well.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit for 15 minutes. It will rise a bit during this time.

Add eggs, and beat with the paddle attachment until well combined. Add salt, sugar and vanilla and beat well. Add 2 3/4 cups of flour, mix with the paddle to combine, then switch to the dough hook and knead well.

During kneading, the dough will begin sticking to the sides of the bowl and building up, until very little is left on the hook. Stop the mixer and scrape it down as this happens. It may take several times before the dough gives up on this sticking.

Eventually, the dough will form a ball around the hook, with just a little "foot" of dough stuck to the bottom of the bowl, but the sides will remain clean.

Keep kneading until the dough is smooth and shiny. It will be a soft dough, but it shouldn't be sticky or goopy at all.

If it is sticky, add additional flour as needed, in small increments. It shouldn't need a lot more flour; this dough seems loose while kneading but holds its shape well after you form it...

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest until doubled in size; it may take 2 hours, or more.

Sprinkle cornmeal on the bottom of a 10-inch loaf pan.

Knead dough again, shape, and put into a bread pan. You shouldn't need any flour to knead or shape this dough. It's not sticky at all.

Let it rise again until doubled in size. Again, It can take a long time to rise. Be patient.

Brush top with beaten egg yolk mixed with water, if desired, for a shiny top. You can slash the top, or leave it as-is.

Bake at 325 degrees for 45-55 minutes, until deeply browned.

Let the loaf cool for five minutes before taking it out of the pan to cool completely on a rack before cutting.

This recipe, along with some of the commentary from the previous recipe, was also published at Serious Eats.

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

Babcia Bread - a rich, sweet Polish 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. Refrigerate whatever you don't use.

Friday, April 16, 2010


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

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.

Walnut-Apricot Bread

1 cup lukewarm water
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 package) yeast
2 1/2 cups bread flour, divided
1 cup raw walnuts
14 dried pitted apricots (I used Turkish)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt

In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine the water, yeast, and one cup of the bread flour.

Put the walnuts, apricots and olive oil into your food processor, blender, or other capable device, and process it until it is a mostly smooth homogeneous mixture. This should make about a cup, but a little more or less is fine.

By the time the walnut mixture is smooth, the flour mixture should be bubbly.

To that, add the rest of the bread flour and the salt, and knead with the dough hook until it begins to come together.

Add the walnut mixture, including all the liquid that may be separating from the walnuts. Knead until the mixture has incorporated fully into the dough and it starts becoming smooth. Stop the mixer and let the dough rest for 10-15 minutes before continuing.

After the rest, continue kneading with the dough hook until the dough is smooth, shiny and elastic. Remove the bowl from the mixer, form the dough into a ball. It shouldn't be sticky at all at this point. Put the dough ball back into he mixer bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let it rest until doubled in size, about an hour and a half.

Sprinkle a baking sheet with cornmeal and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Take the dough out of the bowl, knead it briefly, and form into a tight ball. Place it, seam-side down, on the baking sheet. Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap and set it aside to rise until doubled, about 30-45 minutes.

When the dough has doubled, slash the top. Be decorative if you want, or just slash an "X" in the top or make parallel lines or a square - whatever you prefer.

To recreate the slashes I made, first make the large X in the top of the bread going almost to the base of the dough, then make short slashes in-between the long ones. Use small, sharp scissors to make tiny snips around the short slashes.

Bake for 40-45 minutes. Check the dough after 15 minutes, and rotate the pan if it's rising or browning unevenly. If it seems to be browning too fast, turn the oven temperature down to 325.  

The crust will be a deep brown, and the bread should sound hollow when tapped.

This recipe also appeared on Serious Eats.