Monday, March 31, 2014

Cheesy Fried Polenta

I love grits. And polenta. Either or both. Love 'em.

I usually make soft polenta, but once in a while I let it chill, then I fry it a bit to brown it. So, when I got silicone mold from Good Cook with spring designs for their Spring Fling promotion, I thought it would be perfect for polenta - the size was just right for a batch of nice, thick squares.

Did I mention that this recipe is really cheesy? You might think I got just a tad carried away, but I don't think so. I like cheese. If you're not that much of a cheese fan, you can cut back.

I served this several different ways - as a simple side dish, and as lunch along with a chunky tomato sauce loaded with vegetables. And, I served it alongside eggs for breakfast.

Some of the designs looked better than others after browning, but no big deal there. No one's really looking for designs on their polenta, so any sort of design is a bonus.

You could also brown the bottom rather than the design side if you wanted to. The designs are easily visible without the browning.

When you're shopping for polenta to cook (as opposed to the already-cooked stuff) look for it in the baking section near the oddball grains. It might be labeled as polenta or as corn grits. You're not looking for the finer cornmeal that you'd use for cornbread.

Cheesy Fried Polenta

6 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups polenta
8 ounces grated mild cheddar cheese

Heat the water to boiling along with the salt. Add the polenta slowly, stirring or whisking as you go so you don't end up with lumps.

Turn down the heat so you have an energetic simmer, stirring as needed to keep it from sticking and burning, unless the polenta is very thick.

Give it a taste and see if you like the consistency. I like it fairly soft - still a teeny bit of chew, but no hard or crunchy bits. If the polenta is very thick, but you'd like to cook it longer to soften it a bit more, then add a bit more water.

When it's juuuust right, start adding the cheese a little bit at a time, stirring it in after each addition. It should all melt int the polenta.

Pour the polenta into the silicone mold. Or, if you don't have a silicone mold, you can use a baking pan or glass baking dish. Smooth the top. An small offset spatula - the type you'd use for icing a cake - works well.

Cover and refrigerate the polenta until it's firm. I usually make it the day before I need it.

When you're ready to serve, unmold the polenta and cut it into serving-sized pieces.

Heat some butter or olive oil (or a mix) in a frying pan. Brown the polenta on one side or both - whatever you like - and until the polenta is warmed through.

Serve warm.

I received the silicone pan from Good Cook at no cost to me.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Going Green. Thumb, that is.

Coming soon: Basil Pesto
This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Gro-ables. All opinions are 100% mine.

My dad used to grow a fabulous garden every year. Tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, peppers, carrots, radishes ... so much great stuff.

I've dabbled with gardening over the years, but recently I haven't spent a whole lot of time with planting anything. I have a few unkillable herbs that come back on their own every year, but that's about it.

This year, I was thinking about putting in a few extra herbs, so when I got an offer from Miracle Gro to try their Gro-ables, I figured it was a perfect opportunity.

Or maybe motivation.

Groables are seed pods. Meaning that you just insert the pod into the soil, and you're done. Well, there might be some watering and weeding, but planting has been made pretty foolproof. The pods are designed for younger consumers or people who are new to gardening, but I think it's great for me, because I just don't have tons of time to fuss with planting in the spring. I'm perfectly happy to have it made a little easier.

The seeds, according to the Gro-Ables website are non-GMO, and the pods keep the seeds at the right depth for planting with "growing materials" in the pods that help keep enough moisture near the seeds. There's also some appropriate fertilizer.

All the the pods are for food plants - herbs or vegetables - so people can plant a garden outdoors or stuff some plants into containers on a balcony or near a bright window.

I'm going to be getting basil, butter lettuce, and dill seed pods, which is perfect because I love all three.
Basil photo 12_MG_Basil_4809_1209002_V01_zps6f5578dc.jpg
It's a tad early for planting anything outside right now, but I like container gardening better, anyway. So these will be going into big pots so I can drag them indoors when it snows. Because I know for sure we're not done with snow. Really, really sure. *sigh* But hopefully I'll have some lovely seedlings popping out soon that will get me motivated to do some more planting this year.

Or at least I'll have some butter lettuce, dill, and basil, which is better than I did last year, despite my good intentions.

There's something soooo satisfying about going outside with a pair of scissors and coming in with just enough of whatever fresh herbs I want. When I have some basil to harvest, I'm looking forward to some pesto. And I have plans for that in a recipe. The upcoming pesto recipe won't be your basic pesto, though. The ingredient list includes:

Macadamia nut butter
Black garlic
Olive oil
Lemon juice

But that's all the hint you're going to get. You'll have to wait a bit for the full recipe.

For more info about Gro-ables, check out this video:

So ... are you planning a garden this year? Planting any herbs? Container garden? Let me know!

Visit Sponsor's Site

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Gadgets: Silpain - a Silpat made for bread

You might say that I bake a bit of bread. Sometimes I bake on a stone or in a loaf pan. Sometimes I bake on a baking pan, and in that case I either sprinkle the sheet with cornmeal or I line it with parchment because I hate it when the crust sticks to the pan.

Although I have a Silpat, I never use it for bread. It's too slick and smooth and I don't get the crust I like. So when I found out that the Silpat folks had a mat made specifically for bread, I figured it was worth a try. The difference is that the Silpain ($17.99) is a fine mesh mat, so there's air circulation under the loaf.

Does it make a difference? To give it a test, I made one batch of dough, split it in half, formed two loaves, and put one on a baking pan with the Silpain and the other on a baking pan with parchment. And I ended up with loaves of bread that were anything but identical.

I expected the bottom of the loaf baked on the Silpain to be a little crisper than the loaf baked on parchment, but what I thought was interesting was that I got a little more oven spring from the Silpain loaf as well, perhaps because of the dark surface.

The other benefit of the Silpain is that it's easy to slide the whole thing off the baking pan and onto a cooling rack. It's easy enough to lift a loaf of bread to move it a rack, but a full pan of hot buns isn't as easy. And since the Silpain has holes, the buns don't end up with soggy bottoms, so they can stay on the mat until they're cool enough to move them.

This certainly isn't an essential kitchen item, but I like having a lot of different options for baking bread so I get different results. Sometimes I want the crunch of cornmeal on the bottom a loaf, but now that I've got this mat, I won't be using nearly as much parchment paper.

The product was supplied for the purpose of a review on Serious Eats; this was previously published on Serious Eats.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Astonishingly square sandwich loaf

Some things seem more impressive than they deserve to be. A pullman loaf is a very square loaf of bread, but there's nothing tricky about it - you just need a pullman pan to bake the bread in.

The pan has a top that slides on to cover the loaf so the bread takes on the square shape. It also has a slightly finer crumb because it's compressed a bit since it can't rise as much as it wants to.

Besides being great for sandwiches, it's a good loaf when you want to trim the crust off and just use the soft insides - since it's so square, you can trim off the crust without losing much of the soft inside.

This is a pretty basic buttery loaf, but it's darned good.

I used Platinum yeast here, but you can use instant instead.

Buttery Pullman Loaf

1 cup lukewarm water
1 egg
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) Red Star Platinum yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1 pound bread flour (slightly more than 3 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Combine all the ingredients except the butter in the bowl of your stand mixer and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Cut the butter into a few chunks and add it to the dough. It will incorporate faster if the butter is at room temperature, but the stand mixer will have no trouble incorporating it, even if the butter is refrigerator-cold. Knead until the butter is completely incorporated.

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

When the dough has risen, flour your work surface lightly, spray the inside of the pullman pan with baking spray. Make sure to spray the inside of the top piece as well. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Turn out the dough and form it into a log that will fit the pan. Place the dough into the pan, seam-side down. Put the lid on the pan and set aside to rise until the dough is nearly at the top of the pan, about 30 minutes.

Bake the bread - with the lid still closed - until the bread is nicely browned, about 45 minutes.

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


Monday, March 24, 2014

Shrimp with Egg Yolk Sauce #ShrimpShowdown

Have you ever been to a Teppanyaki restaurant? One of the signature dishes is shrimp with a secret egg yolk sauce. It almost seems like cheese - but it's not. instead, it's a relative of mayonnaise. Or, technically, I guess it's a type of mayonnaise, since it's essentially emulsified egg yolks and oil.

Here, I decided to veer away from the Teppanyaki serving style and served the shrimp on a bed of spinach. Then I drizzled the whole thing with some extra lemon juice - lemon goes perfectly with both shrimp and spinach - and it was a very simple meal.

The secret sauce can be made in advance and refrigerated until needed, and you can peel and clean and butterfly the shrimp ahead of time, too. So when you're ready to cook, it's really fast.

To make the portioning of the sauce a little easier, I used a pastry bag, but you can dollop it on with a spoon, if you like. The sauce is really rich, so don't get carried away. Or, just eat more spinach to compensate.

Annato seeds can be found at specialty spice shops and at some ethnic markets or in the ethnic section of your grocery store. You might find the labeled at achiote seeds. Make sure you get the actual seeds and not the powder or paste. They look like little brick-red rocks and turn the oil a bright yellow-orange color.

Be careful - the oil will stain.

As far as the spinach, as much as I'm a fan of using fresh vegetables as much as possible, sometimes frozen spinach makes more sense. A bunch of spinach at the grocery store or farmer's market cooks down to nothing. A pound of frozen spinach is relatively substantial. And, it's already clean, so you don't need to deal with washing the grit off the spinach leaves. One of my least favorite kitchen tasks.

This post is sponsored by OXO and the NFI Shrimp Council. For my participation, I received a selection of OXO tools and enough shrimp for several different recipes. There's a list of participating bloggers after the recipe, and a chance to win some amazing goodies for yourself, including the same tools I received, and a $100 gift card.

Shrimp with Egg yolk Sauce

For the sauce:
1 cup mild-flavored vegetable oil
2 tablespoons annato seeds
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt
2 egg yolks

For the shrimp:
12 extra-large shrimp, peeled, deveined, and butterflied
1 tablespoon olive oil

For serving:
1 pound frozen chopped spinach, cooked
Lemon juice, as needed
Lemon wedges, for serving

To make the annatto oil:
The first step of this process is to make the annatto oil. You probably won't use the full cup of oil, but once you have it, you can use it for other purposes, so there's no problem with having extra on hand. If you don't want any extra, you can halve it - use 1/2 cup of oil and 1 tablespoon of seeds, and if you need more oil, use plain vegetable oil.

Put the oil and seeds in a small saucepan and heat gently. You don't need to boil the oil, and above all, you don't want those seeds to blacken. Just get the oil hot, stir once in a while, then turn off the heat and let the seeds steep until the oil has cooled. Strain the seeds out and keep the oil.

To make the egg yolk sauce:
Whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl until they lighten in color. This step might seem frivolous, since you're not adding anything to the eggs. But trust me, if you don't beat the oil well, the oil will never emulsify. You can do this with an electric mixer or stick blender if you like.

Add the oil, a little bit at a time, whisking like crazy as you go. The oil should incorporate into the yolks and you should see it thicken.

If you add the oil too fast and the mixture separates, you can beat one more yolk separately and then add the broken mixture to the new yolk, slowly.

When you've got about 1/2 cup of oil beaten into the yolks, add the lemon juice and salt and continue whisking (at this point, I think the whisk is a better tool, so even if you started with an electric mixer, I suggest you finish by hand.

Keep whisking, and the mixture will thicken until it's almost the consistency of Velveeta. You can continue adding oil, if you like, but I preferred the higher yolk-to-egg ratio. Taste and add more salt or lemon juice, as desired.

If you're not cooking the shrimp right away, refrigerate this until needed.

The great thing about shrimp is that even if it's frozen, you're not too far away from cooking. If you didn't think about putting some in the refrigerator to thaw, just let it thaw in cold water. The bowl and strainer OXO provided was perfect for this. For a smaller amount of shrimp, the silicone steamer in any handy bowl or container works just as well. Since it's flexible, you can make it fit into whatever containers you have handy.

To finish the dish:
For a quick video on how to clean shrimp using the OXO shrimp cleaning tool, click here. Once the shrimp is deveined and peeled, butterfly them by cutting through the top side of the shrimp (the top of the curve, opposite the legs) almost all the way through, then flatten them out.

Heat the olive oil on medium heat in a saute pan that has a cover. (Meanwhile, cook the spinach, as desired. I microwaved mine until just cooked through and still bright green.)

Have the egg yolk sauce ready, along with your lemon juice (OXO provided a wooden reamer to make this task easy). Have a cup or small container on hand, with about 1/4 cup of water. You could also mix half water and half white wine, for a little extra flavor.

When the oil is hot, place the shrimp, cut-side up, in the pan, then top each with a small dollop of the egg yolk sauce (or pipe a line down the center using a pastry bag). Pour 1/4 of water into the pan and cover. Cook until the shrimp are cooked through - check after about 30 seconds - and cook just as long as you need to.

Some (or all) of the shrimp might curl a bit as they cook.

Place the shrimp on top of the spinach and drizzle with lemon juice. Serve warm with extra slices of lemon.

Want more shrimp in your life?

The following bloggers all have shrimp recipes, sponsored by OXO:

A Kitchen Addiction
A Zesty Bite
Betsy Life
Bonbon Break
Cherished Bliss
Chocolate Moosey
Coconut and Lime
Created by Diane
Everyday Maven
Foxes Love Lemons
Garnish with Lemon
Growing up Gabel
Healthy Delicious
Home Cooking Memories
Jeanette's Healthy Living
Julie's Eats and Treats
Kirbie's Cravings
Lemons for Lulu
My Man's Belly
Natasha's Kitchen
Noble Pig
Peanut Butter and Peppers
Peas and Crayons
Sarah's Cucina Bella
So How's It Taste?
Taste Love and Nourish
That Skinny Chick Can Bake
Wonky Wonderful

Still not enough shrimp?

All of the  #ShrimpShowdown posts will be featured on a shared Pinterest board on both the OXO and Eat Shrimp Pinterest pages - be sure to check them out! Also, each post will be added to a photo album on the OXO Facebook Page and the Eat Shrimp Facebook Page.

Go check them out and share your favorites with your friends and fans!

Want to enter to win?

The photo shows the tools I received, which are the same ones YOU CAN WIN. The bowl and colander set at the back comes with a lid for the bowl that's not shown in the picture.

AND - there's also a gift card, for a total value of $180. Here's the list:

Shrimp Cleaner
Flexible Kitchen & Herb Snips
Silicone Steamer
Wooden Lemon Reamer
3 Piece Bowl and Colander Set
12" Tongs with Silicone Heads
$100 Visa Gift Card from the NFI Shrimp Council

Enter with the widget below.

If it doesn't load immediately, give it it a few seconds.


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Need a Slow Cooker?

Slow cooked pork shoulder
When the folks at All Free Slow Cooker Recipes emailed me and asked if they could use one of my recipes in an upcoming eBook, I shrugged my shoulders and said, "sure."

They wanted a pork shoulder ... slow cooker recipe.

See what I did there?

I get quite a bit of traffic from that site, and letting go of one recipe wasn't a big deal. Other people, other days, I might have said no. This time I said yes. Which means that now YOU get a chance to win something.

You'll never guess what it is...

As part of the promotion for this book, AFSCR (it's a lot to type. Let's shorten it, shall we?) is giving away two slow cookers - one to a blogger (who also gets their photo featured on the cover of the eBook) and one to a blogger's reader. Or I guess to anyone who enters on their site. But it would be nice if it was one of my readers, right?

And it's a NICE slow cooker. It's a Cuisinart Multicooker. AFSCR reviewed it here.

If you don't already have a slow cooker, this would be a nice one to have. If you have an old slow cooker, maybe it's time to upgrade. In any case, entry is just a few clicks away.

The contest runs from March 25 through April 1. First, they'd like to to cast your vote for your favorite recipe from a blogger at:

The voting page has a link to the giveaway, where you can enter to win. Or, if you're not into the voting thing, but still want to move on to the winning thing, you can enter the contest here.

Go forth and slow cook! And GOOD LUCK!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Maple Coffee Ice Cream

Obviously, summer isn't here yet. But I know it's coming because I've suddenly been wanting ice cream. When fall turns to winter, I lose my interest in chilly desserts. In summer, I make a whole lot of ice cream and we have it for dessert almost every night.

I decided to make a pretty simple ice cream - egg free, no cooking. I started with the idea of maple, but than added just a tiny bit of instant coffee. I really liked the result.

For a little more depth of flavor, I used brown sugar instead of white.

Since I've got an ice cream machine with a compressor, I tossed this in right after mixing. It took a looooong time to churn - almost a full hour. If you have an ice cream maker that uses a freezer bowl, make sure you let the ice cream base chill thoroughly, or you might have trouble getting it to freeze before your ice cream bowl thaws.

And then you'll hate me.

So, let's talk a second about ingredients. It's pretty obvious I love the Crown Maple Whiskey. I use it a lot. The Blis maple syrup is pretty awesome stuff, but it's pricey. You can use regular maple syrup. And then we come to the instant coffee. To be honest, I have no idea what brand it was. It's a little jar of my emergency coffee, just in case my coffee machine breaks or someone steals all my beans.

There's one little trick to the instant coffee. Make sure it dissolved in cold liquid. If it doesn't heat a little bit of the milk, then add the coffee and stir to dissolve. Then add that to the rest of the mixture.

Maple Coffee Ice Cream

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup Crown Maple Whiskey
2 tablespoons Blis bourbon-barrel aged maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon instant coffee

Combine all the ingredients and stir until the sugar, salt, and coffee* are dissolved and everything is mixed in. Chill well before churning, particularly if you're churning in a machine that has a freezer bowl.

Churn according to the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer to a container and freeze.

*Make sure the instant coffee can dissolve in cold liquid, otherwise heat some milk and dissolve the coffee in that before adding it.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Gadgets: Wonderbag

It's not often that I get a chance to test a gadget that was designed for use in third-world countries. But this one isn't just for third-world folks - it's got hometown uses as well.

The Wonderbag ($50) is a soft-sided insulated bag that turns almost any short-handled pot into a slow cooker. You need the short handles so the pot fits within the bag, so you want something like a dutch oven or small stockpot.

The idea is that you heat your pot on the stove to boiling, let it cook for five minutes so the pot and its contents are hot, then put the pot into the bag and let it rest for several hours.

In third-world countries where resources for cooking and heating might be limited, this helps conserve those resources. And it also means no one needs to tend a fire and watch the food.

Here, cooking with less heat is probably more about not heating up the house. And, for folks who don't like leaving a traditional slow cooker running unattended, this solves that problem as well. I could also imagine using this for transporting food while it's finishing cooking on the way to a potluck party.

To see how well the Wonderbag held heat in, I tested it with different foodstuffs in the pot, as well as different sized pots. I left the Wonderbag in a relatively cool location, but a warm spot would give you even more cooking time. On average, it took five hours to go from a starting temperature of just below 200 degrees (I live at high altitude, so the boiling point here is 202 degrees) down to 140 degrees. At sea level, you'd likely get an extra hour or more - the largest temperature drop was during the first hour, then it slowed.

Cooking in the Wonderbag will take some experimentation - a pot of dried beans cooked to perfection, while beef stew was less successful. Recipes are included, so you'll have a good idea of what works best.

Besides cooking in the Wonderbag, it would be great for keeping food warm or cold for serving, just like any insulated cooler. It's not washable in a washing machine, so if you've got a messy pot, you should put a kitchen towel inside to catch any spills. However, it can be spot cleaned to take care of any little spills and spatters, then just let it air dry.

For every Wonderbag purchased, one is sent to Africa and donated to a family that can use it. So it's got a feel-good component, as well. If you don't want your own Wonderbag, you can also donate without buying.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Maple and Black Pepper Biscuits

Biscuits are almost like instant bread - you mix and bake and they're done.

If you don't have self-rising flour on hand,you can always make your own.

Sweet and savory, these maple and black pepper biscuits would be perfect for a breakfast sandwich with pork sausage or ham. The sweetness from the maple is gentle, so  they're also perfect in the bread basket at dinner.

Maple and Black Pepper Biscuits
Makes 12 biscuits

2 1/2 cups (11 1/4 ounces) self rising flour
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (plus more for topping)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons maple syrup

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. (Make sure the baking sheet will fit in your refrigerator – you might need two sheets, depending on the size of your refrigerator.)

In a medium bowl, combine the flour and pepper.

Add the butter and cut with a pastry cutter or two knives until the butter pieces are no larger than peas.

Combine milk and maple syrup. Add it to flour mixture and stir gently to combine, just until all the flour is moistened. It’s fine if the dough is wet and goopy. If it seems dry and the flour doesn’t all incorporate, add more milk, as needed.

Generously flour your work surface. Turn out dough and flour the top. Pat it to about 1/2 inch thick. Fold the dough in thirds, like a letter. It might be easiest to do the lifting with a dough scraper.

Flour your work surface again, just enough to keep the dough from sticking. Pat the dough again to about 1/2 inch thick. Fold in thirds again.

Flour your work surface again. At this point, it shouldn’t need a lot. Pat again to 1/2 inch thick. This time, fold the dough in half.

Pat the dough to 3/4 inch thick this time. Cut circles from the dough using a 2 1/2 inch biscuit cutter. Place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet. If you want browned, crisp edges on your biscuits, leave space between them. If you prefer soft sides, let them touch slightly.

Cover the biscuits and refrigerate overnight.

The next morning, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. When the oven is heated, remove the biscuits from the oven and uncover them. If you prefer, brush the tops of the biscuits with some milk and grind on some extra black pepper.

Bake at 375 degrees until the biscuits are nicely browned, about 25 minutes.

Remove the biscuits from the oven and place on a rack. Serve warm.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Leprechaun Ice Cream #SundaySupper

Disclaimer: no actual leprechauns were harmed in the making of this treat.

However, leprechauns may or may not have helped brainstorm this mint and chocolate ice cream that's reminiscent of the old-timey Grasshopper cocktail.

Or, I might have come up with the name because the other obvious St. Patrick's day name - shamrock - is already in use by some commercial entity.

But I have to say this is a heck of a lot better than a milkshake and more easily portionable. You make a milkshake in a giant glass. This you can have one scoop. Or three. Don't blame me if you have three.

Leprechaun Ice Cream

2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup milk
1/2 cup green creme de menthe
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup creme fraiche
10 Oreo mint-filled cookies, smashed, crumbled, or chopped

Combine all ingredients except the cookies in a bowl (or better yet, a large measuring cup, for easy pouring), and stir until the sugar is dissolved completely.

If you've got an ice cream machine with a freezer bowl, refrigerate until this is as cold as it can be before churning. If you've got an ice cream machine with a compressor, you can freeze immediately.

Churn according to the manufacturer's directions. Add the cookie bits towards the end of the churning time, or mix them in as you transfer the mixture to a container. Mix well. Freeze until firm.


Note: This also makes a great shake - just blend it with some milk and serve with a big, fat straw.

Green Light Appetizers and Sides
Getting Greens Through Salads
Entreés That Will Leave You Green With Envy
Desserts and Beverages That Will Make Others Turn Green

Join the #SundaySupper conversation on twitter on Sunday! We tweet throughout the day and share recipes from all over the world. Our weekly chat starts at 7:00 pm ET. Follow the #SundaySupper hashtag and remember to include it in your tweets to join in the chat. Check out our #SundaySupper Pinterest board for more fabulous recipes and food photos.

Would you like to join the Sunday Supper Movement? It’s easy! You can sign up by clicking here: Sunday Supper Movement.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Long little rye loaves

When I made a recipe for "chopped" chicken livers from the book 50 Shades of Chicken, I decided to make some rye bread to go along with the livers. That's how my mom served chicken livers (although she didn't make her own bread) and that's how a favorite restaurant in Chicago offered them.

You could certainly make this bread as one large loaf rather than long loaves, but this shape is better for appetizers, which was my intention.

You could also split the loaf lengthwise for sandwiches. Corned beef season is coming soon - how about corned beef on rye?

Or a reuben.

Dang, now I want corned beef!

Long Little Rye Loaves

2 1/4 teaspoons yeast*
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups (9 ounces) bread flour
1 cup (4 1/2 ounces**) dark rye flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cocoa powder*** (optional, for color)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons caraway seeds

Combine the yeast, sugar, bread flour, rye flour, and salt in the bowl of your stand mixer. Knead until it is becoming elastic. Add the oil and caraway seeds and continue kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic, and the caraway seeds are well distributed in the dough.

Cover the bowl and set aside (in a warm spot, if your house is chilly) until the dough is doubled in size, about an hour.

Flour your work surface lightly and turn out the dough. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or sprinkle with cornmeal. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Divide the dough in half, and form each half into a log about 13 inches long. Place the logs on the prepared baking sheet, leaving space between them so they don't join when they expand.

Cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap, or, if you have another sheet of the same size, use that as a cover.

Set the dough aside to rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.

Remove the plastic wrap. Slash the loaves as desired and bake at 350 degrees until nicely browned (this is hard to tell if you used the cocoa powder), about 25 minutes.

If you like,  you can spray the loaf with water when you first place it in the oven and after about five minutes of baking.

Let the loaves cool completely before slicing.

*I had 1 1/4 teaspoons of Red Star Platinum yeast left from my bread machine experiment, so I used that, plus 1 teaspoon of active dry yeast. You can use whatever you happen to have on hand.

** Depending on the rye flour you buy, one cup might weigh more or less than 4 1/2 ounces. If you have a scale, weigh it. If you don't have a scale, you might need to add a little flour or a little water if your flour weighs more or less than mine.

*** It doesn't matter if the cocoa you use is regular, Dutch or dark. This is just for color.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Gadgets: Zenker Layer Cake Slicing Kit

I still remember the first time I was faced with slicing a layer cake in half horizontally. It was a bit of a disaster.

Okay, I was nine years old, but I haven't gotten all that much better despite have better knives and trying all sorts of tricks that are supposed to make it easier.

The Zenker Layer Cake Slicing Kit ($58.50) has turned me into a cake slicing expert. Heck, it could turn my nine-year-old self into an expert. There's nothing to set up or adjust, just slice between the guides, and you can slice a cake into multiple layers.

But wait, there's more! Uh... I mean, it's a kit, so you get some extras. There's a large cake lifter, which is pretty necessary if you're going to be lifting and moving thin layers of cake.

See the tiny, even layers? Huzzah!
Since the lifter is 11 inches in diameter, it would also be handy for shuffling small pizzas around.

And there's also a knife. Okay, everyone's got a knife or two but you need a sufficiently long knife to slice a cake in half horizontally, so it make sense to include one in this kit.

This one has a serrated blade that's just shy of 12 inches long, so it's plenty long, and the serrations make it find for slicing bread as well as cake.

The slicing guide is said to adjust to fit 10- and 11-inch cakes, but I recently used it for a 9-inch cake and an 8-inch cake. The 8-inch was a very loose fit, but it really didn't matter, since you don't actually need a snug fit for this to work.

Overall, I'm really pleased with this and forsee a lot more multi-layered cakes in my future.

The product was supplied for the purpose of a review on Serious Eats; this was previously published on Serious Eats.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Need Self Rising Flour? Mix your own!

Self-rising flour is a handy thing to have on hand if you tend to make a lot of biscuits and quick breads and other recipes that specify self-rising. I happen to like King Arthur's self-rising flour, since it's made from a softer wheat than typical all purpose flour. Unfortunately, it's not always available at my local store.


I buy it online when I'm buying other King Arthur products, but I tend to use it all before it's time to place another order. Oh well ...

The good news is that self-rising flour isn't a magical or complicated product. It's easy to mix it up yourself. Sure, you won't get the benefit of the softer wheat flour, but that's not going to kill a recipe. If I'm not planning on making multiple recipes that require self-rising flour, I mix just enough for a recipe or two.

When I know I'm going to be making a lot of biscuits and similar goods over the next week or so, I mix up larger batches. This stuff doesn't go bad quickly, so you don't need to fret about leftovers that hang around for a few weeks or even a few months.

Want to make some? Here's how:

For a small batch of self-rising flour:

2 cups (9 ounces) all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients and whisk well to distribute the baking powder through the flour. Or, if you prefer, you can sift it together. Store the same way you store your flour.

For a large batch of self rising flour:

1 5-pound bag all purpose flour
1/2 cup baking powder
2 tablespoons salt

Stir or sift the ingredients together well so that the baking powder is evenly distributed in the flour. Store the same way you store your flour.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Gadgets: Kuhn Rikon PushPan

When you're baking something that would be difficult to remove from a standard cake pan - like a cheesecake - you'll probably choose a springform pan. But the problem with springforms is that they tend to leak.

But that's not the only option. I tested a 9-inch square PushPan from Kuhn Rikon ($35), which has a loose bottom, much like a tart pan. But the difference is that the removable bottom of the PushPan is rimmed with silicone, creating a gasket-like seal to keep the dessert in the pan and the waterbath out.

My first thought was "why didn't someone think of this before?" It seems obvious now that it exists.

The bottom fits quite snugly, and it's suggested that you use a bit of oil or baking spray to help it slide into place, and that oiling really is necessary. Once oiled, bottom slid into place easily, and it was just as easy to unmold the baked goods. I had no leakage at all during testing.

This pan is a bit expensive, but considering that it can be used in place of a standard baking pan, a springform pan, or a tart pan, the price seems much more reasonable.

One slight disadvantage is that the pan isn't quite as deep as it seems because of the way the bottom piece fits. The depth of the pan measured from the outside is 2 3/4 inches, but the interior depth is 2 1/4 inches - think of it as a 2-inch-deep pan and you're fine.

Besides the square pan I tested, there are round pans in three different sizes.

The product was supplied for the purpose of a review on Serious Eats; this was previously published on Serious Eats.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Dried Cranberry Muffins

Who says cranberries are just for Thanksgiving? The sweet-tart flavor of the berries pairs perfectly with the vanilla in these muffins and the overnight rest plumps the dried fruit and makes it softer.

For something different, you can now find flavored cranberries. The orange-flavored cranberries are particularly nice in these muffins.

Dried Cranberry Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

2 1/2 cups (11 1/4 ounces) self rising flour
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium bowl combine the flour, cranberries and sugar.

In a separate bowl, combine the milk, vegetable oil, egg, and vanilla extract. Whisk to break up the egg.

Add the wet mixture to the dry and stir until combine an there are no more dry spots. Cover the bowl and refrigerate until the next day.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and spray the cups of a standard-size 12-cup muffin pan with baking spray.

Remove the batter from the refrigerator. It will have expanded. Don’t stir. Using a disher or spoon, divide the batter into the 12 muffin cups.

Bake at 325 degrees until the muffins are lightly browned on top, and they bounce back when lightly touched on top – about 25 minutes.

Remove the muffins from the oven and let them rest a minute or two before flipping them out of the pan. If necessary, you can run a thin knife around the sides of the muffins to help loosen them from the pan.

Place the muffins on a rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Strawberry Swirl Sweet Rolls #TwelveLoaves

When I got invited to participate in Twelve Loaves, a blog group that bakes bread and posts about it once a month, I was pretty sure I could handle the challenge.

Once a month, huh? Easy peasy.

The first challenge was strawberries, and I knew that I had some frozen berries waiting to be used. Perfect.

I waffled between making a swirled bread and swirled sweet rolls. Both had their advantages and disadvantages, but I settled on sweet rolls after letting my husband putting in his vote. Something about sweet rolls for breakfast.

The one issue with making any kind of swirled sweet roll is that whatever's in the swirl is going to be in contact with the bottom of the pan where it could burn. But ... but ... what about sticky buns? There's sugar and stuff there, but it doesn't burn ...

The answer is butter. Think about it. When you make sticky buns, you put butter and sugar in the bottom of the pan and it turns into gooey caramel. It doesn't burn. So I put butter in the bottom of this pan and when the dripping strawberry jam met the butter, it created a nice gooey sauce that didn't burn. Exactly what I wanted. Sticky bottoms.

I'm usually not a fan of super-sweet stuff, but I thought the powdered sugar icing was a perfect touch on these. My strawberries were tart, so the extra sweet worked well.

Strawberry Swirl Sweet Rolls

For the dough:
1 cup water
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar
3 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

For the pan:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted or softened

For the filling:
12 ounces frozen (or fresh*) strawberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons instant pectin

For the drizzle (optional):
1 cup powdered sugar
Water, as needed

To make the dough:
Combine all the ingredients except the butter in the bowl of your stand mixer. Knead until the dough comes together and is beginning to get elastic. Add the butter and continue kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic.

If you have softened butter for the dough, that's great, but there have been plenty of times when I've used it straight from the fridge. The stand mixer does a fine job incorporating it.

Cover the bowl and set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled, about an hour.

Now's a good time to get the pan ready:
I used a ceramic 9-inch square baking pan, and simply put it in the microwave to melt/soften the butter. Then I spread it to cover the whole bottom of the pan. If you're using a metal pan, you can melt/soften the butter in a small microwave-safe bowl, then spread it in the pan.

Meanwhile, make the filling:
Combine the strawberries, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a saucepan or saucier. Cook on medium until the sugar is melted and you can break up the berries into small bits. Continue cooking until the mixture thickens, then sprinkle the pectin in, stirring as you go. This will help it thicken and gel even more. Take the mixture off the heat and let it cool to room temperature.

Now, back to the dough:
When the dough has doubled, flour your work surface and heat the oven to 325 degrees.

Turn out the dough and form it into a rough square, then use a rolling pin to roll it to about 9x12 inches.

With one of the short sides facing you, spread the strawberry filling over the surface of the dough, leaving about 1 inch uncovered on the far side.

Starting at the end closest to you, roll the dough up, keeping it a little loose rather than trying to roll it tightly. Slice the dough into 9 equal-sized pieces. Arrange the pieces, cut side down, on the buttered pan.

Cover the pan with plastic wrap and let the rolls rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.

Bake the rolls at 325 degrees until they're nicely browned, about 35 minutes.

Let the rolls cool.

Make the drizzle:
Add water to the powdered sugar, a little at a time, stirring, until you have a thick but pourable mixture. Drizzle this over the cooled rolls.

*This post was created when fresh strawberries weren't in season. Of course you can always use fresh berries!


I'm a little bummed that I missed February, which was a delicious month of chocolate breads. Doesn't that sound great?

For March, we're anticipating the arrival of Spring (hurry up, Spring!) and baking with strawberries as the theme ingredient. That includes fresh, frozen or dried strawberries, or even jellies or jams. Sounds delicious, right?

Check out all the fun from these great bloggers who participated in this month's challenge:

 #TwelveLoaves is a monthly bread baking party created by Lora from Cake Duchess. #TwelveLoaves runs so smoothly thanks to the help of the lovely Renee from Magnolia Days and this month the fabulous Alice of Hip Foodie Mom.
Strawberry Swirl Sweet Rolls

Monday, March 3, 2014

Can you use Red Star Platinum Yeast in a bread machine?

Someone asked me that question, and I said, hmmm ... I don't know.

One of the problems I've run into with bread machine loaves is that sometimes they can over-rise and then collapse. It happened to me on multiple occasions.

The Red Star Platinum yeast gives bread a better rise, but would it be too much?

On the other hand, the Platinum yeast also gives the bread nice structure. So the bread can rise higher without collapsing.

I figured I'd give it a try. At the worst, I figured I'd have bread crumb fodder.

Basic Bread Machine Loaf

1 teaspoon Red Star Platinum yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
2 1/2 cups (11 1/4 ounces) bread flour
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup room temperature water

Throw everything into the bread maker in the order specified by the machine's manufacturer. Push buttons as needed.

I didn't have time for the full 4-hour cycle, which I prefer, so I went for the quick setting, which is 1 hour 55 minutes.

Remove pan from bread maker, remove bread from pan. Let cool.

I had a nicely domed top on the loaf, but I dropped it on its head and it flattened a bit. Oops.

But - the experiment worked. The Platinum yeast gave a nice rise. Ta da! So the final answer is, yes, the Platinum yeast works just fine in a bread machine.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

As St. Patrick's Day nears, what's more Irish than ...

... ketchup?

Let's think about this a second, shall we?

When we think about Irish food, the potato is on the list, yes? And when we think about potatoes, one of the most common dishes is French fries, right? And what do you put on French fries?

Yes, ketchup!

See how I did that?

So when an Irish company called Ballymaloe asked me if I wanted to try some of their ketchup (which is called Country Relish in Ireland), I said, sure, what the heck.

So I made French fries.

The company told me that the ketchup is free of gluten, dairy, and artificial additives, but I was much more interested in what it tasted like.

They send me three different ketchups - the regular, one with stout, and one with chilis. I decided to taste them in that order, figuring that it made sense to go from mildest to strongest.

The regular ketchup was sweeter and spicier than the normal US ketchups. But not sweet in a sugar, candy-like way. Sweet like ripe tomatoes and sweet spices. While it was more flavorful than a typical ketchup, it was still recognizable as ketchup. It wasn't a mystery sauce or a barbecue sauce wanna-be. I really loved it. Totally. Like, gee, can they ship me a couple cases of this?

Besides the flavor difference, the texture was less smooth than a typical US ketchup. Not chunky or lumpy, but not completely smooth, either.

I want to slather this on everything.

The ketchup with stout was darker and a little richer. Less sweet. Still recognizable as ketchup. To be honest, I'm going to have to do another taste test to decide whether I like this one or the regular better. I think the regular might edge this one out by just a little bit.

The ketchup with chilis wasn't as spicy as I expected. Which is actually a very good thing. I could slather this on French fries and not feel like I was eating potatoes and salsa. I think this would be a great base for making cocktail sauce, adding its heat to the horseradish that I always use. But, it's still recognizable as ketchup, which made me really happy. I kind of hate it when I buy something labeled as "ketchup" and it ends up being hot sauce, barbecue sauce, salsa, or tomato paste.

So ... since I had so much trouble picking a favorite, I decided to try another test: Meatloaf.

And here's my final decision. For French fries, I liked the regular ketchup best. For hot meatloaf, I liked the ketchup with stout, and for cold meatloaf sandwiches, I liked the ketchup with chili. So ... yeah, I liked them all.

Good thing I don't have to choose ... until I run out.

Luckily, there's a handy map that shows where I can find more. I'll be looking for it.

So, what's your favorite thing to put ketchup on?

Disclaimer: I was sent products for review. I was not compensated for this post, nor was I required to say nice things.