Thursday, March 31, 2011

What the Heck is Chourico?

A while back, I won three packages of chourico, shipped to me from a company called Mello's. I had no idea what it was, so I did a little research. In a nutshell, it's the Portuguese version of chorizo.

Then I realized that chourico is the sausage that's used in the Portuguese soup with kale and potatoes. Okay, I'd made that before, so the first package went into some soup.

And I promptly forgot about the other two packages.

It's okay, they were vacuum sealed and frozen.

I was digging in the freezer and pulled out a package of the ground chourico. I had no idea what to do with it, but I figured I'd just wing it. Does anyone else do this? Not know what an ingredient really is, and forge ahead blindly? Yeah, that's how I roll. Erratically.

When I was thinking about ground chourico, I associated it with Mexican fresh chorizo which is highly spiced, raw, and greasy.

I figured I'd treat it like Mexican chorizo, fry it, drain the grease, toss in some eggs, and scramble it all together. I had some avocados on hand to make guacamole. I had tortillas. I pulled out some refried beans. It all make perfect sense.

Until it hit the frying pan.

You know how vacuum-sealed frozen food can look a little ... mysterious? You look at it, but you're not exactly sure what it is ... I mean, meat looks like meat, and ground meat looks like lumpy meat, just like this package of pinky-orangey lumpy meat. I attributed the color to spices, and I dumped it in the frying pan.

The first odd thing was that it wasn't oozing grease. Well, that's a plus. Then I took a closer look. Hmmmm... it didn't really look raw. And as I leaned in to look even closer, I realized that it smelled like Polish sausage. Smoked Polish, to be exact.

Well, hmmmm....

That's not what I expected. At all.

And my guacamole was looking a little confused, as well.

But I continued. I heated the chourico, and it started smelling really good. I mean, it's chopped up smoked sausage. How can it not be good? It started getting darker with some crispy bits. Mmmmm.

So I stirred the sausage, cracked some eggs, and continued with the plan. Smoked sausage and eggs is a good combination. I've made that before.

And then I served it with the tortillas and the guacamole an the refried beans and some rice. Hmmmmm...

As an afterthought, it would have been even better if I had added some sauteed green peppers and onions. It also would have been interesting if I had added a small squirt of hot sauce. To be clear, the chourico and eggs was a good combo, and it even worked well in the tortillas. Just about everything works well in tortillas. Rice and beans work with just about everything, too, although potatoes might have been a slightly better match.

So in the end, it was mostly all good, even though I was confused about what I was working with.

The guacamole, however, slunk away to find some tortilla chips to hang around with.

Next time I'll know better. I have one more package of chourico. Although this last one is labeled "hot" so it's going to be a different sort of beast. Maybe I'll fry it up with potatoes, green peppers, and eggs. Just maybe.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Crock Pot Caramelized Onions

Caramelized onions are a great addition to burgers, pizza, sauces ... and how about French onion soup? But who wants to stand at the stove and stir onions for an hour and end up with just a small batch of onions when you can make a huge batch in a crock pot with very little work?

Yes, I said crock pot.

I picked up this method from one of the commenters on Serious Eats, and I had to try it to see how it worked.

Sure, it takes a long time in the crock pot, so you have to plan ahead. But after you slice the onions there's not much work until you empty the crock pot. It also makes a large batch, so you'll have plenty to use and more that you can freeze for later use. So you invest some crock pot time and end up with enough onions for several recipes

Another bonus is that if you're watching calories, these pack a lot of flavor with no added fat. The ingredient list is amazingly short. Just onions. No butter, no oil, no water. You can add a pinch of salt, if you want to, but it's just as good to season them when you use them.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Jam Muffins

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but in my house, sometimes clumsiness is the mother of breakfast. When a jar of raspberry jam fell off a shelf and the lid got a little dent, I heard the distinct thnnuck of the lid losing its seal. I put the jar in the fridge and contemplated what to do with it.

I considered cupcakes and cookies, but decided I didn't want anything quite that dessert-y. Muffins sounded good. They're single-serving, easy to transport, and fast to make.

I used raspberry jam, but any flavor would do.

I made the muffins themselves a little less sweet, because I figured the jam would add its own sugar. If you happen to be using a very tart jam and you want your muffins sweet, consider adding 1/4 cup of sugar to the muffin batter to compensate.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Focaccia and Ciabatta

If you read my post about working with high-hydration bread, you might have noticed the pretty photos of focaccia and ciabatta. I didn't post the recipes because they weren't my recipes - they were from Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day.

I tend not to post many recipes that aren't my originals, but I changed my mind - this one is worth repeating.

Okay, but first about the book. This is like training wheels for artisan breads, but only if the training wheels are for a supercharged bicycle.

Compared to similar books, this one is aimed at the home cook, but the recipes aren't dumbed down at all. The recipes are somewhat complicated, with a lot of steps, but it's all written very clearly, keeping in mind that the home baker is not a professional.

If you're looking to move beyond basic breads, this book will get you there.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Technique: Cooking Surfaces for Pizza (Part 1)

There’s more to baking pizza than just shoving it into a hot space. That dough needs to sit on top of something. You can cook your pizza on a stone, on a pan, or some special pizza baking device – but are the results different enough to recommend one surface over another? What are those differences?

Whenever someone asks this question, inevitably someone else will say “I use this thing and I love it!” That’s a great endorsement, but it doesn’t offer comparisons. Would you love a different baking surface just as much? Is a cheap alternative just as good – or better – than something more expensive? Does weight, thickness, or mass matter?

I'll be testing a variety of cooking surfaces, one at a time, to see how they perform. To make the test fair, I'll be using the same recipe each time. For baking, the oven will be set at 550 degrees and preheated for one hour. The pizzas will be baked for 8 minutes and I'll take photos so we can compare them, and I'll continue baking any that aren't done.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Online Bake Sale to Help Japan

Heads up, guys!

If you've been drooling over my creations, but you don't want to bake your own, I'm participating in an online bake sale to help Japan. Read about it here.

You'll have your chance to bid on all sorts of baked goods (including mine!). And do a little something to help support Japan.

I read about this bake sale and followed some links, and decided that it would be kind of a fun way to help a good cause. I don't personally know anyone involved, but it all seems legit.

I've done local bake sales, and I've make food for in-person demos, but this is the first time I've ever had online strangers bidding on my baked goods. So we'll see how it goes.

My first consideration was what might travel well. First, I considered biscotti. They're pretty dry, so they wouldn't get weird or moldy in the mail, and they wouldn't break up too much in handling.

But biscotti - even my tweaked versions of them - aren't all that unique. I decided that my fire crackers would be a better choice. They're different. You can't find them anywhere else,

I think they'll do well in a sale, and hopefully they'll raise some money for a good cause.

As far as shipping, these these are completely dry, so shipping is simple. A couple might break, but it's not like trying to ship frosted cupcakes. And once they get to their new home, they don't have to be eaten right away. Like any dried cracker, they've got a long, long shelf life. So the buyer doesn't have to eat them that day or that week.

And last, these have that little air of mystery. These are the crackers that generated the optical illusion cracker that seemed to have a bear's face in it. There's no guarantee that any batch will ever have a special cracker like that, but you never know.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookies

I don't usually buy cookies, but when Girl Scout cookie season rolls around, there's a good chance I might pick up a box or two. This year, as I was munching a Do-Si-Do, the Girl Scout peanut butter sandwich cookie (also known as Savannahs, depending on the bakery that makes them), I thought that I should work on a similar cookie. After all, Girl Scout cookie season is pretty short.

I didn't want to make exactly the same cookie, though. I wanted to improve improve upon it a little bit. Instead of an oatmeal sandwich cookie with a sweet peanut butter filling, I thought that adding peanut butter to the cookie itself would be interesting. While I was at it, I decided that chunky peanut butter would be even better.

The nice thing about oatmeal cookies is that while they're sweet, at least they've got whole grain oats. I decided to make them even a little bit better, and used white whole wheat flour instead of regular all purpose flour.

White whole wheat flour is whole grain flour, just like whole wheat flour. The difference is that whole wheat flour is made from red wheat. The red pigment in that wheat can be a little bit bitter, but since white wheat doesn't have the same pigment, many people find it a little more palatable than whole wheat.

White wheat flour is still a little darker than regular white flour, so it's noticeable in things like bread or light-colored cakes. But in cookies, chances are that no one would be able to tell which flour was used. If you're trying to get your family to eat more whole grains, you probably aren't going to stuff them with cookies, but if it's a choice between these cookies or something made without whole grains, these are a much better option.

But what good is a cookie if it doesn't taste good? These deliver. Peanut butter, bits of peanuts, and chewy-crispy oatmeal cookies are hard to resist. I made these as stand-alone cookies, but you could certainly spread a little peanut butter on the bottom of one and attach another one, if you wanted to go all the way with a sandwich cookie

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spicy Brisket Tacos

I've launched a little food-related project in conjunction with the folks at Fooducopia, a site where small food producers sell their products. My part in this is that I'll be creating recipes specifically for products sold on the Fooducopia site. This is one of those recipes. This time, the product was Honey Chipotle Hot Sauce made by Zane and Zack's.

Brisket is an amazingly versatile cut of meat. Not only is it the meat that's used to make corned beef, it can be used like a pot roast or barbecue. The key to cooking brisket is cooking for a long time on low heat, but you can do that in the dry heat in a smoker or you can braise it in a crock pot or dutch oven.

Whenever I braise a tough cut of meat, I like to cool the meat in the cooking liquid, refrigerate it overnight, and reheat it the next day for serving. It's not an old wives tale that braised food tastes better the next day - the meat actually changes texture during the cooking, and it is better when reheated than it was when it was first cooked. Than makes this a perfect dish to make ahead. You're not serving leftovers - you're serving planned-ahead food.

If I was making a pot roast, I would have added vegetables and seasonings when I braised the meat, but this time all I was looking for a was a spicy meat to use for tacos, so I skipped the vegetables. For the seasoning, I used Zane and Zack's Honey Chipotle Hot Sauce. It packs a decent amount of heat, but it's also sweet and smokey, so it's more complex than if you threw a couple hot peppers into the pot. It didn't need anything else for flavoring.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Crock Pot Mac and Cheese

I love a challenge. So when my husband came home and said that someone at work had asked him if I had a good recipe for macaroni and cheese that could be made in a crock pot, I decided that I could certainly find or modify an existing recipe. I've never considered the crock pot for making mac and cheese, but there were plenty or recipes online, so I figured it would be simple enough.

I tossed out most of the recipes.There's no reason to want to cook noodles for 8 hours, unless the whole point is to put the ingredients into the crock pot before you go to work. But even that doesn't make sense to me. Even if you're starting with dry noodles, like for a lasagna recipe, it's only a couple hours - not eight - before those things are cooked through.

I ignored all the recipes that used soup. The person who asked for the recipe specified that he wanted a recipe that used real cheese. That also eliminated Velveeta and American cheese. I decided on cheddar and Swiss.

Finally, I decided that I had to throw out all of the existing recipes and start from scratch. Mac and cheese - if you're not using a box with powdered cheese or a block of Velveeta - can go horribly wrong if you aren't careful. And the better the cheese is, the more likely it is to go wrong. Velveeta melts smoothly, but aged cheddar can get grainy if you overheat it.

Slow cookers are supposed to cook slowly, but they can still get warmer that you need them to be for mac and cheese. You don't want a boil or a simmer. The first few times I tried making mac and cheese in the crockpot, it was fine for a short time, but it wasn't long before it was overheating along the sides, and that was the end of smooth sauce.

If you're cooking in a pot on the stove, the stirring you do distributes the heat and you can adjust the heat. But all that stirring defeats the purpose of using a crockpot. You want to be able to cover it and walk away from it - at least for a little while.

It took some tweaking, but finally I got a recipe I liked. It had good flavor, good texture, and it worked in the crock pot.

One key to getting this to work is to use good-quality noodles. The super-cheap ones can get mushy too fast. Elbow macaroni is traditional for mac and cheese, but you can use other shapes, if you prefer.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

70-Percent Hydration Bread

My last Pizza Protips article for Serious Eats discussed high-hydration doughs and how to manage the stretch and fold technique.

In that article, I explained that stretch and fold is about the easiest ways to handle a dough with very high hydration, like the focaccia recipe in Artisan Breads Every Day, which has an 80 percent hydration.

But stretch and fold can be used with doughs of lesser hydration as well, as long as it's wet enough to stretch easily. Talking about the method is one thing, but doing it - hands on - is the best way to learn. If you've never tried this technique and you've always kneaded with a machine or by hand for up to 10 minutes, it will seem impossible that a few simple folds will give enough structure to the dough. But it works.

If you haven't practiced the technique, this bread is a good way to learn. The dough at 70 percent hydration is easy to work with - not too stiff and not too floppy. Meanwhile, the long overnight rest develops flavor, so it's more than just a teaching tool - it's a good loaf of bread.

As you get more comfortable with the technique, you can move on to higher-hydration doughs and different recipes. You might not give up hand kneading completely, but this method certainly has its place in any bread-baker's recipe book.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Basic Pizza Dough

I'm doing some experiments with different pizza baking surfaces, to compare how they perform. To make the tests fair, I'm using the same dough recipe each time. That way, the different results will be due to the different baking surfaces rather than differences in the recipe itself.

This is a very basic recipe, and one that doesn't require a lot of hands-on finessing.

I figure that the more hands-off the recipe is, the less likely I am to make the dough less consistent from batch to batch.

Basic Pizza Dough

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Technique: Working wth Wet Dough

Pizza makers often talk about using wet doughs, but there are some bread doughs that can even higher hydration. Focaccia, for example, is often made from an extremely wet dough. The recipe in Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day has a hydration of 80 percent. For those you haven’t grasped baker’s percentages, we’re talking about a recipe with 20 ounces of flour and 16 ounces of water.

Working with a dough that wet has its challenges, particularly if you’re used to handling more typical doughs.

Mixing a wet dough is easy. Baking a wet dough – well, the oven does all the work. Kneading a wet dough is where many bakers go astray. For most doughs, the kneading is done on a floured surface to keep the dough from sticking. But if you knead a very wet dough that way, that dough is going to gather up a lot of flour along the way. Pretty soon your 80-percent hydration dough is at 70 percent or less. It’s a lot easier to handle, but it’s not the same dough.

Many people these days have heard of the stretch-and-fold technique these. I first heard of it back in the days when Usenet was mostly gone and newsgroups were the way to meet up with kindred souls. I belonged to a food group, and there was a very lively bunch of bakers who were experimenting with wetter and wetter doughs.

One day, one of the guys on the group said that he’d found a unique new way to handle very wet dough. What he described was the stretch and fold technique. I have no idea if he developed the technique independently, or whether he learned it somewhere. All I know is that the group proclaimed him a genius because the stretch and fold technique is an easy way to work with wet dough.

The stretch and fold technique is just what it sounds like. When you knead a standard dough, you tend to fold it and push, fold and push, fold and push. If you tried that with a super-wet dough, you’d be fine with the fold, but the push would leave you with dough adhered to your palm.

Stretching and folding is a similar motion, but with a very wet dough you don’t need to press it to get it to merge with itself, so the last motion is the fold.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Fast and Forgiving Pasta

We’ve all been there – at the grocery store picking up a few things, knowing that it will be a rush to get dinner on the table, never mind that the groceries need to be put away at the same time. The rotisserie chickens beckon, but they’re losing their appeal.

If only there was a fast and easy dinner that wouldn’t require a lot of prep work, and wouldn’t dirty too many pots and bowls. If only the ingredients were easy to find, without going from store to store, hunting down exotic ingredients. If only the recipe was so easy it didn’t require a whole lot of brain power to assemble it.

If such a recipe existed, wouldn’t it be great if it was a little bit customizable, so you could take advantage of what’s on sale today rather than buying from a strict list?

When I’m in that quandary, pasta is often the answer. It’s filling, it’s satisfying, and it can be customized so many different ways. If you’re trying to eat more whole grains, you can opt for whole wheat pasta or you can use gluten-free noodles, if need be.

Pasta sauces today tend to be a lot lighter than the ones I grew up with, and they cook a lot faster as well. Sure, you can simmer a meaty pasta sauce all day, if you want to – but you can also throw a sauce together in less than the time it takes to cook the noodles themselves. Particularly if you live at high altitude where it takes a little longer for anything to cooking in boiling water.

This shrimp and tomato pasta is no exception. It comes together in so little time, you’ll have enough extra time to rip up some lettuce and serve a salad on the side.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Simple Guacamole

There are probably as many guacamole recipes as there are tortilla chips. I've made some pretty complex versions, but this is the recipe I always fall back on. It's perfect for munching with chips, or slathered on a taco or dolloped on top of a burrito.

Of course, if you don't like cilantro, leave it out. I like it in small quantities, and this is just perfect.

There are more complex versions, with tomatoes, spices, peppers, bacon ... but when I serve guacamole, there's often some salsa lurking nearby, so there's no need to add the salsa ingredients to the guacamole, too.

To be honest, even when I'm making the guacamole to stand on its own, I tend to like it simple. I like the flavor of avocado. Why obliterate it?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Double Surprise Grilled Cheese

It looks like an innocent cheese sandwich ... but ...
I love grilled cheese sandwiches, but when I saw a post on Serious Eats about making toad-in-a-hole using a grilled cheese sandwich instead of toast, it got me thinking. For one thing, why would I want to get rid of the middle of the sandwich? Why not just put the egg INSIDE the grilled cheese sandwich?

And while I was thinking about it, I thought that all that wonderful richness cried out for something to cut it.

I like fresh tomatoes on my grilled cheese sandwiches, but it's not the season for tomatoes. But hey, what about salsa? Eggs go well with spicy things, like salsas, so why not?

I wanted to end up with a grilled cheese sandwich with a cooked egg with a runny yolk inside, so when it was cut down the center, the yolk would be warm but still oozy, perfect for sopping up with the toasted bread. The idea was great, but the implementation was a little difficult. Soft yolks are very fragile, and any little bit or pressure resulted in  the yolk bursting and oozing onto my cooking surface.

But I persisted. I tried several different methods, some more convoluted then others. Finally, I succeeded. Let me tell you, it was worth it. Very rich, but very worth it. This sandwich has now achieved the status of "that sandwich" as in, "How about if I make that sandwich for dinner tonight?"

I decided to use poached eggs for the sandwich. A fried egg would work as well, but I figured there was enough fat in the cheese and egg and butter, so the egg didn't need to be fried as well. Also, a poached egg is a nice small neat package that can hide well in the middle of a sandwich.

Choose a cheese you like, but make sure it's one that melts well. I used colby longhorn, because it's my favorite for grilled cheese. Slices work, but grated cheese would be easier to form and would probably melt faster as well. Your choice.

When you're poaching the egg, make sure the whites are set enough so that they can support the yolk, but make sure the yolk is still runny. If the whites aren't set enough, the yolk is at more risk of breaking. The egg will warm up a bit inside the sandwich, but it won't cook a lot more, so the yolk will stay runny.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

It's Soup!

So simple and tasty. And it used up some pesky leftovers.

From the pantry:
1 can petite diced tomatoes
Dried basil
From the freezer:
Chicken stock
Cooked carrots
Cooked potatoes
Cooked noodles
Fresh additions:

No measurements, used up the last bits of the leftovers and added everything else to taste. Seasoned with the basil and some salt and pepper. And that was that. Soup. Simple and satisfying.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sweet Buns

It's funny how my mind works sometimes. I was thinking about coffee cake, and how some of them aren't sweet at all except for the topping. And there are some sweet breads that are sweeter than some desserts, but you'd probably eat the them for breakfast. Cinnamon rolls and almond coffee cake and streusel and strudel and buttery breads were calling to me.

It wasn't a day for whole grains, that's for sure.

Instead of a loaf, I opted for buns. These are fine-grained and soft-crumbed. Sweet and a little buttery with hints of vanilla and almond. The topping was sweet, but there wasn't too much of it - just a few crumbly nibbles on each bun. These were perfect with a little butter, and really nice all by themselves for a to-go snack as I was running out the door.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Garlic-Pepper Shrimp

I've launched a little food-related project in conjunction with the folks at Fooducopia, a site where small food producers sell their products. My part in this is that I'll be creating recipes specifically for products sold on the Fooducopia site. This is one of those recipes. The ingredient from Fooducopia this time is roasted garlic oil from Extravagonzo Gourmet.

I love garlic,  but somehow I don't always have fresh garlic on hand when I need it. I'll think I have some, but when I pull our a bulb it will be sprouted, or dried, or both. On the other hand, garlic oil is always on hand and it never fails me. Even better, while fresh garlic can be a little harsh until you cook it, roasted garlic oil is smoother, which is great when you want that garlic flavor now.

Shrimp and garlic are a natural pair, and once you've got those two, you don't need much more. Oh, you can add more if you like - a little spice is nice, or the tart bite of lemon. But you don't absolutely need them. This recipe is simple it takes no time at all to assemble, particularly if you buy your shrimp already cleaned.

The simplicity of this basic preparation also makes these simple shrimp very versatile. They’d make a great appetizer with some crusty bread to sop up the juice, or warm on top of a salad. But even though they're simple, they pack enough flavor to make them main-dish worthy. Serve them over pasta, couscous, or rice and drizzle with a little extra garlic oil and maybe a sprinkling of lemon juice, and serve a fresh salad on the side and you've got a nice meal.

For a more elegant meal, use large fresh shrimp. Or use frozen pre-cooked shrimp for a quick weeknight meal when you don't have time for anything more complicated.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Salmon with Home Made Saffron Pasta and Creme Fraiche Dill Sauce

So, now I've advanced in the Ridiculously Delicious Challenge to the point where the 15 remaining contestants have re-make a recipe made by a fellow competitor in the previous round.

To make the challenge even more challenging, the rules say you can't use the "secret ingredients" that you used in the previous round. So, since I used dried cherries and tepin peppers, those were out of the running. But that's okay, that left me with six more ingredients that were still available. And I needed to pick three of those six ingredients to use in the remake.

The dish I almost chose was the Sweet and Spicy Vegetarian Chili made by Lemongrove Avenue. I was intrigued by the use of the dried cherries in the chili. I certainly could have made the dish with a different hot pepper, and I could have messed with the beans and maybe added some meat ... sure, I could have remade it, but the part the intrigued me was those cherries. And since I used them in my dish, I couldn't use them again. I'll set this one aside for later.

I had a couple others I waffled about, and there were a few non-winning entries I might go back to and make later. This was a really great group of recipes. Check out the whole list here, at the Marx Foods site.

I finally decided I wanted to remake the Fettuccini alla Carbonara made by We Like to Cook. It was a tough decision, but in the end, I was in the mood for some fresh pasta, and after thinking about the ingredients I could use, and the ones I couldn't ... this was the one.

But of course I couldn't simply make the dish - I had to remake it.

So - the pasta stayed, but instead of plain pasta, I made a saffron pasta. Saffron was one of the secret ingredients, and in lent a lovely yellow hue to the pasta. Some pieces of pasta had saffron threads visible, as well. Really pretty and there was just enough saffron to add that wonderful warm flavor.

The pancetta went away and salmon came in. I sprinkled the salmon with fresh ground grains of paradise. You might have guessed that grains of paradise was another of the secret ingredients. It's an interesting spice. Sort of like pepper, but not quite the same.

And then I needed to do something with the sauce. I didn't want a typical cheesy sauce, but wanted something creamy so it would be similar to the original, so I went with a creme fraiche sauce with dill pollen. And yes, dill pollen was another secret ingredient.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Technique: Fresh Yeast

Fresh yeast is the middle ground between modern dried yeasts and ancient sourdough. You can buy it instead of growing your own, but now that dried yeasts are so prevalent at stores, fresh yeast seems like a very old-fashioned product. It's much more perishable than dried yeast and can be unpredictable to use, just like sourdough.

The first “commercial” yeasts in the 1800’s came from beer brewers, but the real breakthrough was when microbiologists following the work of Louis Pasteur learned how to culture pure strains of yeast. At about the turn of the century, centrifuges were used to concentrate those cultured yeasts, and we were on our way to easily available commercial yeast.

At first the commercial yeast was a slurry, Later it became “cream yeast” which was live yeast suspended in a growth medium. Finally, compressed fresh cake yeast was developed, and became the standard for bread baking. Compressed yeast is essentially the same as cream yeast, but with most of the liquid removed. It resembles soft clay and has a distinct aroma.

Because of its perishability, fresh yeast can be a little hard to find. Grocery stores sometimes sell little cubes of fresh compressed yeast, but that’s a hit-and-miss proposition. I see it more often around holidays, when presumably people might be baking bread from scratch. If you do buy it, you have to hope the yeast is still viable. It’s risky.

So why should anyone bother with fresh yeast?

For one thing, the flavor. When everything else is equal, fresh yeast imparts a flavor that isn’t present in breads made with dried yeast. It’s not the same as sourdough, but it has a distinct flavor of its own. You might not want to use it every time you make dough, but you might want to give it a try at least once to see if you like it.

Friday, March 11, 2011

At The King Arthur Flour Traveling Baking Demo

When I heard that the folks from King Arthur Flour were bringing their traveling baking demos to Colorado, and pretty close to home, of course I had to go.

I did get a couple quizzical looks when I said I was going to a baking class. Why would I want to go to a baking demo? What's left to learn?

Truth is, there's always something to learn. I hope I never get to the point where I think I know it all and I stop finding new and interesting things all around me. I probably didn't pick up as much information as some of the audience. Some of the things discussed were things that I had recently written articles about, but it was nice to confirm that King Arthur flour and I agreed. The questions from the audience were interesting, though. I'm always curious about what questions people have or what cooking problems they encounter, and sometimes I learn things from those sorts of questions.

One new little tidbit was about yeast, and this was something that was relatively new to the folks at King Arthur Flour, as well. They had a meeting with the people at SAF yeast, and in that meeting they discovered that active dry yeast is now being made differently than it was before. Active dry yeast used to have live yeast cells in the center, surrounded by dead yeast. That was because of the manufacturing process, where the yeast was heated to aid in the drying process. So, the yeast on the outside of the pellets cooked and died.

Now, though, water is removed by a vacuum process, so there is no layer of dead yeast. Why do we care? Well, there's one big reason. This means that active dry yeast doesn't have to be proofed. You can add it to your flour directly the same way you can add instant yeast directly to flour. On the other hand, there's no problem with proofing either active dry or instant yeast, if that's what you want to do.

But I digress...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Rye Bread and Reuben Pizzas

After the corned beef brining experiment, I had plenty of corned beef left. Lots of corned beef. Which is a good thing, because I like it. And it lends itself well to leftovers, like Reuben sandwiches, corned beef on rye with mustard, and corned beef hash.

And of course, if you're making those sandwiches, you need some rye bread, right? And then you need even more rye bread.

This time, I decided to use Pumpernickel flour. Or at least that's what it was labeled. While there is such a thing as pumpernickel bread, the definition of pumpernickel flour is a little sketchy. Flour companies disagree on exactly what it's supposed to be, but in general it's a darker flour, and more coarsely ground. If you can't find pumpernickel, dark rye would be a good substitute. If you can't fine that, then any rye flour would suffice.

I used both caraway and flax seeds for this recipe, but you could leave out the flax. If you don't like caraway, you could leave that out as well.

I used this same recipe to make a loaf of bread and to make some flatbreads that I covered with Reuben leftovers - corned beef, sauerkraut, and cheese. I thought the Thousand Island dressing would be too messy to bake into my pizzas (?!), so I passed that on the side as a condiment.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Semolina-Flax-Honey Bread

Recently, I got some samples of flax seeds from King Arthur Flour for answering a survey, and decided to use both the regular flax and the golden flax  the same loaf of bread.

The flax that I ground and put into the bread was the golden flax, but I put both types on top of the loaf, with half covered with the lighter and half covered with the darker. I figured that would let me taste them individually and see if I liked one more than the other.

To be honest, I didn't taste a big difference between the two, but I like the color options. The darker brown would be great on a golden crust, and the light ones would be pretty on a dark crust. Of course, a mix of the two would also be great.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Soda Bread with A Twist

Public Service Announcement: Most Irish soda bread includes raisins. However, I don't like raisins. So if you're lookin' at the soda bread picture and thinking that the raisins look awfully pink, it's because they're dried cranberries. Use raisins if you prefer.

This is an American-style soda bread, from what I understand. Irish soda bread originally didn't have raisins.

Some American-style Irish soda bread also includes caraway. This one doesn't, but if you like it, feel free to add 2-4 tablespoons of caraway along with the dry ingredients.

I found one recipe for soda bread that included cornmeal. In fact, it would have made a nice cornbread. The story along with the recipe was that during the famine in Ireland in 1848, the US shipped dried corn to Ireland. No one knew what to do with it, so they ground it up and made bread. Whether that's true or not, I don't know, but it would be a fine excuse for making cornbread to go with your corned beef.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Fresh Vegetable Egg Foo Yung

Egg foo yung looks much more complicated than it is. It doesn't take long to cook, and the prep work can be done ahead of time if that's more convenient.

For me, the key to good egg foo yung is fresh bean sprouts. Growing your own is easy, but fresh sprouts are available at local grocery stores these days - not like when I first learned how to make these and the choices were to grow your own or buy canned sprouts. If you have no other choice, canned sprouts will work, but they don't have the same fresh taste or texture.

The ingredients in egg foo yung shouldn't be too chunky - thin slices are key for the onions and celery. A mandolin makes the work easy, if you have one, but you can certainly do the slicing by hand. Thin slices of bok choy or julienned snow peas or zucchini are nice additions to egg foo yung, and small pieces of water chestnuts add a nice crunch.

Once you've learned how easy it is to make egg foo yung, you'll find yourself thinking of all sorts of things to add to customize the flavor. Even better, it lends itself well to using up small amounts of leftovers, whether you have vegetables, meat or seafood.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Reuben Sandwiches

Home made rye with caraway seeds?


Home made sauerkraut?


Home cured corned beef?


Home made Thousand Island dressing?


Swiss cheese?

Okay, I bought the cheese. Gimme a break!

Assembled and grilled. What have you got?


This has been submitted to Yeastspotting.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Technique: Troubleshooting Dough

I started a thread recently asking Serious Eaters what dough-related tips and techniques they wanted to read about. There were quite a few "troubleshooting" questions - not so much "how do I?" but more like "Uh oh, it's gone wrong ... now what?" I'll keep collecting questions and answering them here from time to time, so if you've got questions, let me know.

Here are the first few:

If you've added too much flour to a dough, how do you add more water?

We all know that adding more flour to a dough is easy - sometimes too easy. Flour your work surface and the dough will keep picking up more and more flour as you knead. Adding water, on the other hand, seems so complicated. Try to pour even a tablespoon of water in the middle of your dough and work it in, and you've got a mess on your hands.

But think about it. When you add flour, you're not putting a scoop of flour into the middle of your dough and trying to work it in. You're adding a thin film of flour to the surface of the dough, and incorporating it slowly. Are you ahead of me yet? No?

The answer is to use a spray bottle and add the water just as slowly as you add flour. Mist the dough, fold, and knead. Mist again, fold and knead. If you add too much water at once, the dough gets slippery and it's a little harder to work in the water, but if you mist it just enough, it gets tacky and the dough sticks to itself and the water incorporates easily. Once you figure out how much water to spray, it's pretty easy to add enough water in a short amount of time.

If you've covered a formed and rising loaf of bread with cloth, and the cloth gets stuck, how do you un-stick it?

The best thing to do is thwart the sticking to begin with. White rice flour dusted on top of the loaf will keep almost anything from sticking, and unlike wheat flour, you won't have that raw flour taste if you leave it on during baking. If you don't want that much flour on top of your loaf, you can rub the rice flour into a cloth. I have a couple of cloths that I use specifically for dough, and they're pretty much impregnated with rice flour. The cloth doesn't stick, but it also doesn't leave a lot of flour residue on the loaf, either.

If it's too late for precautions and your cloth is sticking, pull out your trusty spray bottle filled with water, and spray the cloth. Give it a second or two, and it should release from the bread without tearing the skin on the dough. If it's still pulling, wet it a little more and give it another couple seconds before you try again.

My kitchen is always cold. Dough rises too slow, and refrigerated doughs take forever to stop feeling chilly.

Yeast likes warm room temperatures, so if your kitchen isn't warm, your dough will take a lot longer to rise. While a long slow rise is great for developing flavor, sometimes you want your dough to rise a little faster so you can have it for dinner tonight instead of breakfast tomorrow.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Thousand Island Dressing

I used to love the Thousand Island dressing at restaurants, but the bottled stuff never tasted the same. It was always too sweet, or it had odd flavors. I tried brand after brand, and never found one I liked.

Of course that was back in the days when I wasn't making my own salad dressings. Now, I still like Thousand Island, but I make my own. A friend gave me a recipe years ago that had a huge list of ingredients, but over time I pared it down to a more basic version. Thousand Island dressing doesn't need cheese...

However ... there are a few optional items that I don't always use, but that I like. Hard boiled eggs add a nice texture and thickness to the dressing, and the onions add ... onions. Neither are necessary, but they're nice, if you have them on hand.

Horseradish varies in strength, depending on the brand and how long you've had it. A teaspoon adds a nice zing if the horseradish is fresh. If yours is a little older, you might need to add a bit more to add the same amount of flavor.

Thousand Island Dressing

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup chili sauce
1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish
1 teaspoon horseradish
Optional items:
1 hard-boiled egg, grated or very finely diced
1 tablespoon onion, finely diced

Combine all ingredients. Mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Buttermilk Butternut Squash Soup

I created this recipe for a contest run by Rodale Press and sponsored by Simply Organic. Winners were supposed to be notified by March 1, but I haven't been notified. Shame, too. It's a healthy little winter soup, and easy to make.

Buttermilk Butternut Squash Soup
Makes 4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
Pinch of salt
1 cup cooked butternut squash*
1 cup water or stock
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon  sage
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 tablespoons Greek-style yogurt
Cinnamon, for garnish

Drizzle olive oil into heavy-bottomed sauce pot and heat to medium. Add onions and pinch of salt. Cook on medium, stirring often, until the onions soften, about 5 minutes.

Add the squash, water (or stock) and buttermilk. Stir to combine. Add the sage and cinnamon, and heat, stirring often. Puree the soup with a stick blender, and reduce heat to simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes to allow flavors to combine.

If you don't have a stick blender, this can be pureed - carefully - in a blender or food processor. Follow manufacturer's directions for blending hot liquids.

Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper, as needed.

Divide into 4 soup bowls and garnish each with a tablespoon of yogurt and a small sprinkle of cinnamon. Serve.

Note: the fast way to cook winter squash is to cut it in half, removes the seeds, then lay it cut-side down on a microwaveable plate or baking dish. Add about 1/4 inch of water to the dish, cover with plastic wrap and poke a few vent holes in the plastic. Microwave on high for 20 minutes for an average-sized squash.

*Other winter squash can be substituted.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Sourdough English Muffins

I love English Muffins. There's something about the way butter melts into the nooks and crannies in a toasted muffin, with the soft interior and the crispy toasted bits. In some ways, English muffins are better than bread. Sure, you can toast bread, but it's not the same. Not at all.

When you add sourdough flavor to and English muffin, they're even better. That hint of tang is the perfect foil to sweet jelly, but at the same time, it pairs well with cream cheese or peanut butter.

There are two basic methods for making English muffins. One is to make a dough, roll it out, cut it in rounds like you would for biscuits, and then bake it.

These English muffins use a dough that is more batter-like, and it's cooked on a griddle, like a pancake. To keep the batter from spreading, you need English muffin rings. Round metal cookie cutters or biscuit cutters would also work. Or, if you're the do-it-yourself type, you can cut the top and bottom out of small round cans, like the type that water chestnuts come in.

To get the proper craggy surface, you have to split the English muffins open rather than cut them before you toast them. Insert a fork in the side of the muffin, going all the way around the circumference of the muffin until it splits open, and you'll have that perfect uneven interior.

When you're making these, keep in mind that they aren't really done until they're toasted. You don't want to brown them too much on the griddle since they'll brown more in the toaster.