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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Foodbuzz 24,24,24: Ohio Wine Dinner

When Dawn and I began planning our dinner we had tons of ideas concerning themes and concepts, and we ended with the conclusion of an American/European fusion dinner titled Americana Revisited. The reason why we settled on this was to highlight the essence of Midwest America without the humdrum standbys that no one wants to eat again any time soon. We appreciate the fact that Ohio is never considered as a wine growing paradise because that leaves more of the hidden jewels for us. I have to admit, that until recently even I sneered at the idea of excellent wine being made on the shores of bleak Lake Erie. It sounded like a ridiculous concept- but the mind must always be open innovation so it does not shrivel up into a repetitive heap. America is rarely known for a cuisine of its own, but that makes quite a statement in itself. Americana must always be revisited and remelted with shards of the old elements and shreds of the new to keep it the cultural melting pot that makes our cuisine great.

For our first course, I had the challenge of pairing some sort of a salad with a slightly sweet white. For the wine, Daniel and I selected a Gewurtzraminer wine from Fireland's vineyard, located on Isle of St. George in Sandusky, Ohio (home to Cedar Point if you're a roller coaster fan). We'll mention Firelands again later on. This course was our first test if you will, as despite our optimism, there was a slight worry  in the back of my mind that the wine would be exceptionally sweet, and the stereotyped jabs to Ohio wine would hold true. Lucky for us, they were wrong! To compliment what the wine described as its "Rose Petal Fragrance," I choose a lemony brussels sprout hash topped with poppy seeds. The zesty flavor from the lemon complimented the delicate sweetness of the wine exceptionally well and created a wondefully refreshing pairing that we will probably plan to enjoy again.


As soon as we found out that we were going to be doing the pairing dinner, I knew I wanted to do some sort of ravioli dish. I love preparing homemade pasta, partly because of the process, and partly because of how versatile the dish can be. I don't get to make it very often because because it does take a little bit of time and space. Luckily though, I had my mom's larger kitchen to take over for the afternoon and an extra pair of hands to help put them together.  For the wine, we selected a blend from South River Vineyard in Geneva, Ohio, looking for a sweeter, lighter red to transition to the dryer reds later. We have yet to visit this winery, but if you look at their site, the place looks quite amazing with the unique setting in the church. The Trinity blend was a blend of Chambourcin, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir, and we read would be sweeter, smokier taste. So, to try and compliment the two flavors, I prepared a Mushroom Ravioli with homemade pasta and slow cooked smokey bacon onions in (in place of a sauce). One of our guests (who happens to be related...and share a love for bacon), described the pairing of the slow cooked smoky bacon onions with the mushroom ravioli as releasing a "cornucopia of flavors" when paired with the wines. By this point, Daniel and I were both relieved I think that the myth of super sweet mediocrity was quickly being debunked. 

For the soup course I had a few elements in mind that fit the criteria of Americana Revisited including Spanish chorizo, split orange lentils and parmesan crisps. For my birthday a few days ago, Dawn bought me the book Happy in the Kitchen by Michel Richard in which he composes countless dishes similar to yet reinventing the wheel of common American dishes. For example, he revisits pecan pie which, explains as being pleasantly surprised by the first time he had it in the states and inserts macadamia nuts in place the pecans. There is definitely something to be said for reinventing the wheel as long as you don't forget the principles and engineering behind it. I tossed around the idea of using fresh Mexican chorizo and finally settled on Spanish although I believe they would both work in the recipe. The bright orange split lentils added the vibrancy I was hoping for in the dish as well as marrying well with the lamb stock I prepared last weekend for the soup. Just to mesh the spicy chorizo, buttery lentils, salty parmesan crisp, and sweetness of the stock- the Chambourcin added a pleasant dry peppery note that played well as a counterbalance.

Another book I highly recommend for its thoughtful reverence of properly raised meat as well as the head to tail approach that Fergus Henderson has become so famous for is The River Cottage Meat Book by another well intentioned Brit by the name of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. His ideas and commentary from the humane approach to meat to the precedence of keeping old recipes alive make the book a must for meat lovers. Near the center I wandered upon a recipe titled something like Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder Alla Donny Brasco which he gives a bit of credit to Nigella Lawson and others for also coining the cooking method, but as usual the ingredients and unique elements are what he wanted to display. I thank him, Lawson, and whoever else is responsible for the method, but like Hugh I tinkered with the flavor profile to stuff the pork shoulder with garlic cloves and rosemary, crusting it in whole grain mustard while still slow roasting it at 200 for approximately twenty hours. The mustard sauce that I prepared with the pan drippings, white wine, and extra rosemary seemed to be a hit. The combo of meat and sauce rested over white cheddar cheese grits. And, contrary to some of our preconceptions, the '05 Firelands Cab was musty and smoky with hints of fruit but not too much as a Cabernet Sauvignon must remain true to its noble old world roots which in our case was the Ohio version. A sort of Midwest Americana that the Old world would appreciate.

Last but not least for my dishes was a wine poached pear dish with homemade ricotta that adds the creaminess that seems inherently sinful yet right when uncorking a bottle of desert wine just for those special occasions. With all the hecticness of the activities which felt a bit like us hosting our first thanksgiving, yet the celebration was not even in our house, Dawn did a nice job capturing as many dishes and angles as she could but at the end of the night we ended with very few pictures of the pears. With something as sumptuous as pears, I try to keep the kiss (keep it simple stupid) approach so as not to overwhelm the natural sweetness and delicacy that comes out during poaching. I poached them in some white wine, a shot of triple sec, brown sugar, and lemon zest. The apple pie Mead from the Brothers Drake Meadery here in Columbus (who we paid a nice visit to earlier this month, and will probably again soon) went together with the pears and cheese as apple pie goes with cheddar cheese yet with a more mellow connection rather than an opposites attract relationship. Americana can always use another apple pie/cheddar combination and my nomination is poached pears and ricotta.  

Finally nearing the end. The dessert course. Initially I assumed this would be the easiest course to come up with a pairing for. I love making desserts. Pairing desserts with wine, particularly an Ice Wine that's exceptionally sweet is slightly more difficult however, as you have to be careful that the two are not competing as far as sweetness goes. This type of disaster would be quite a loss with any dessert wine, but with ice wine in particular I discovered this would be quite a travesty, as the process is quite labor intensive and a somewhat more risky venture. Ice wine gets its name because it is made from grapes that have frozen on the vine. The freezing process concentrates the grape flavor and the sweetness, producing an intensely sweet but perfectly balanced wine, but is also quite risky for the wine producers as it depends on a deep freeze occurring while the grapes are still in a ripened state on the vine. Besides the risks involved in the possible loss of the crop itself, the process of production is quite labor intensive as well, explaining why the cost is slightly higher. 
The ice wine from Firelands was not too expensive as far as ice wines go, and was absolutely perfect. I think we all sat in absolute silence for a few seconds after the initial sip. The cake I choose for the pairing was a toasted almond cake with a nectarine glaze, dotted with grapes to balance the sweetness. The toasted buttery flavor of the almonds and the delicate sweetness coming through from the nectarine proved an ideal pairing. I wouldn't boast to be able to say my baking is able to compliment such an amazing wine, but it definitely didn't detract from it.

All in all, the meal was absolutely incredible. We successfully found wines to debunk the super sweet stereotype from both larger Ohio Vineyards like Firelands and Debonne, and smaller operations like South River Vineyards and Brothers Drake Fine Meads. Along our journey revisiting Americana, we learned through trial and error the sweet wines created from the different grape varietals that thrive in Ohio. While visiting the Brothers Drake Meadery, we learned about the decline of interest in mead following World War II and a bee blight about the same time,  and current growth of the mead industry that emphasizes both local honeys and products, and a revisiting of wine making techniques that extend back to medieval time. The experience with pairings was rewarding and the chance to share it with friends and family in a family style meal was unforgettable. We haven't included  recipes we used as this post is quite long, but please ask for any that look interesting and we'd be happy to send them to you. I'm sure you're tired of reading by now, so all that's left is to thank Foodbuzz for the opportunity to not only find some wonderful examples of Ohio Wines, but to share an incredible meal with friends and family.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Our Daily Bread

Coming down to the basics, the body needs hydration, vegetables and some protein. A lot of our protein actually comes from bread and grains specifically when the principal breads are flat breads made from simple grains. Breads primarily without yeast. Something about this essentialist lifestyle is appealing to me--a cottage by the beach with a some room for a garden. A hearth to bake breads, from the diminutive roll to the might boule and everything in between. A rod and reel to procure fish to salt as they do with salt cod in Spain.

I enjoy bread with mixed pleasure. On the one hand, its nourishing, and on the other it fits into the simple pleasure category. Like salt cod or smoked mullet or a host of other personalized joys, the sensation of pleasure toward bread runs deeper than simple nourishment, although the addition of flax seed, spelt, and millet certainly pack a punch. When you pull a boule from the oven and thump its belly to check for hollowness, much a like jimbe yet more fragile. There is something primitively pleasing about whacking the heel slice off and enjoying a bite instead of untying a bag for instant gratification.

Like meals slaved over yet relishing every minute of preparation, bread baking is much more akin to Thanksgiving in the sense that time leading up to the event is as much a part as the event itself. I have enjoyed the preparation and consumption of bread from our oven more in the last few weeks as Dawn and I have let our imaginations wander to consider a couple of ideas that hopefully you can enjoy as much as we did.

Lately I have become fascinated with cardamon. Due to the fact that Dawn randomly picked up an entire bag of lemons, a combination of the two seemed imminent. Milk or buttermilk adds a tremendous richness to bread that water fails to impart, so I used buttermilk with the combination of earlier mentioned ingredients to fashion a lemon cardamon boule.

Lemon Cardamon Boule

2 Pkg Active Dry Yeast
3/4 Cup Warm Buttermilk
2 cups Spelt Flour
2 Cups Bread Flour
2 Tbsp Cardamon
Zest from one medium lemon
1-1/2 Tbsp Salt
1/2 Cup Buttermlik
3 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Egg White with 1 Tbsp Water
Poppy Seeds

1.Dissolve yeast in warm buttermilk and let proof. Measure flours into mixing bowl. Add cardamon and salt, and mix well.
2. Add lemon zest to flours. Add yeast mixture and begin blending by hand. Add oil and graduatlly add buttermilk to achieve correct consistency; firm enough to pull away from sides of the bowl.
3.Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until dough is smooth (8-10 minutes by hand).
4. Coat inside of a blowl with butter. Add dough ball and turn to coat. Cover and let rise until doubled (about an hour).
5. Punch down, knead for three minutes; allow to rise a second time.
6. Punch dough once more. Remove from bowl and using both hands, draw dough together in a "circular package," pinching ends together. Turn dough over and set it pinched side down on a baking sheet or pizza stone sprinkled with cornmeal (to prevent sticking). Let rise until doubled in bulk.
7. Slash top in three places for decoration/for steam. Brush with egg wash made with beaten egg white and water. Sprinkle with poppy seeds.
8. Broil at 375 for 20 minutes. Switch oven to bake for 25 minutes (or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom).
9. Cool on rack.

From some of the reading I have done lately, I ran across a book titled Boulaugerie which happened to include some French classics like pan de raisin, baguettes, croissants, and other jewels concocted in or around the city of lights. The recipe that I began with for the baguettes was appealing first because it uses bakers yeast which believe me is easier to find in Europe, or at least so it seems. Not too long into the preparation, the mission became a bust, maybe due to the density of the spelt flour I used as a partial substitute. I enjoy a slightly denser loaf though, so maybe it was just meant to be an improvised mission. Ultimately, the loaf became known as a pretzel boule, due to the nuttiness of the spelt and the salty crunch of the sel de gris baked on top.

Pretzel Boule

2 tbsp Brewers Yeast
1 Tsp Sugar
1/4 Cup Lukewarm Water
2-3/4 Cup All Purpose Flour
1 Cup Spelt
3/4 Cup Water
3 Tbsp Sel de Gris
1 Egg White Beaten + 1 tbsp Water

1. Dissolve yeast in 1/4 Cup Lukewarm Water with sugar. Let stand for 10 minutes and proof.
2. In large bowl, combine flours with remaining water. Add proofed flour.
3.Knead until dough is soft (about 10 minutes). Cover bowl and let dough rise until doubled, about an hour, in a warm place.
4.Once doubled, place on floured surface and knead again briefly. Shape into boule and place on baking sheet or stone. Cover and let rise until slightly risen, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 500.
5. Using knife, make 3  slashes in the boule. . Place loaf in oven. Reduce temperature to 450 and bake 10 minutes. Reduce temperature to 400 and bake until crust is golden brown and loaf sounds hollow when tapped, about 20 minutes more.
6. Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheet.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Zesty Winter Sweets

In case you haven't noticed, winter has seemed to hit everywhere a little harder this year. Last week, we were fortunate enough to receive a few feet of snow, enough to cancel class for the day and give me a chance to catch up. Thus, I don't mind the snow too much (probably because I don't  have to drive in it). Riding the bus, iPod playing, watching the snow is actually quite peaceful and calming.The inherent quiet and stillness that snow instills seems to me to be a nice reminder to just slow down and watch nature do its thing for a little while.

What can make the winter a little difficult though, is the gray skies that typically accompany the snow. They aren't just gray clouds, but instead an impenetrable gray that covers the sky. There, I think, lies the source of the infamous 'winter blahs.' While we've spent quite some time attributing this mysterious condition to the cold and combating it with soup, but this I decided to arm ourselves with a different, brighter approach.

While flipping through Dorrie Greenspan's Paris Sweets on my day off, I came across a bright recipe for lemon butter cookies that seemed like a perfect fit for the spring or summer. Initially, I thought I would tuck the recipe away for later use when it warms up. However after a weekend of sweet breakfast pastry baking expeditions, we happened to have a surplus of egg whites in the fridge, leading me to the idea for these bright, refreshing zingers to fight the winter blahs.

Winter snow, meet  spring time lemon zest. Make friends. 

The meringue is nothing spectacular, just your usually delicate puff of egg white sugar. The cookies are by themselves quite delicious (I added some extra zest to make them extra lemony), and I wrapped one log in wax paper and plastic and froze it for later use. Flavor wise, the meringue and extra lemony cookie balance together well, not a whole lot to say there. Texturally though, these little guys are incredible. As you bite into them, the cookie gives a nice crunch from the bottom, giving way to the soft chewy center of the cookie as the lemon taste invades your palate. Then, just before the lemon becomes too much,  the light airy meringue begins to into a sea of sweetness, complimenting and perfecting the taste of the lemon.
Whatever weather you happen to be experiencing this winter, I hope you'll give these a try to brighten up any winter blahs. And besides, when else do you get to use the weather as an excuse for making cookies!

Snow Capped Meringue Lemon Butter Cookies

Lemon Butter Cookies adapted from Paris Sweets
2 Stick Unsalted butter; room temperature
2/3 Cup Confectioners Sugar
1 Large Egg Yolk
Pinch of Salt
2 tsp Vanilla
Lemon Zest from Two Medium Lemon
2 tsp lemon juice
2 Cup All Purpose Flour
1.Combine butter and confectioners sugar and mix until smooth and silky. Add egg yolk, salt, vanilla and lemon zest; and juice, and continue mixing. Slowly add flour until just combined. /Divide in half. Roll each half into a ball. Place ball on piece of plastic wrap. Cover, and refrigerate 30 minutes.
2. Remove from fridge and roll into logs, between 1 and 1/1/2 inches thick. Wrap logs and chill for two hours.
3. Preheat oven to 350. Line two baking sheet with parchment paper.
*prepare meringue while oven preheats.*
4. Using a sharp knife, cut cookies from logs, about 1/4 inch thick. Place on baking sheet leaving 1/2" space.
5. Bake 8-10 minutes until cookies just begin to set (if not adding meringue, bake an additional 2-4 minutes).
6. Working quickly, remove cookies from oven. Carefully Pipe meringue swirls onto tops of cookies, making sure to keep meringue on the cookie, but getting as close to the edge as possible. (The warm cookie should help the bottom of the meringue to cook/set.
7. Place cookies back into warm oven. Cook for an additional 8-10 minutes or until meringue begins to set and brown. Remove from oven and carefully remove from pan. Allow to cool & enjoy!

Quick Meringue
4 Egg Whites
6 Tbsp Sugar
Using a clean, cool, glass or metal bowl, add egg whites. Beat until soft peaks begin to form. Slowly add sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form and meringue is glossy. Carefully using a rubber spatula, add meringue into piping bag fitted with large tip. (Make enough meringue for 1/2 of butter cookie recipe.)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

For the Love of Cod

Lately, maybe due to the increased amounts of reading and study of food, I have delved into why cooking and writing about cooking is so pleasing and soothing to my nature. It is a fundamental element to our survival to begin with, but it truly takes a desire and eagerness to go above and beyond simple nourishment to an aesthetic presentation which not only satisfies your stomach but your eyes.

From an aesthetic standpoint, at an early age my mother ground fresh Montana wheat in her wheat mill to make  different varieties from hard red wheat to spelt breads. I can remember the golden loaves emerging from the oven to be carefully lathered in butter to create a sheen that Van Gogh's stars would be proud of. And doubtless if you have read any of my former thoughts you understand that I attribute  Southern heritage to a large portion of my appreciation and awe of good food. But, the more I read and write the more I understand from excerpts by Beard, Bourdain, Pepin, and mountains of others that a well rounded appreciation of food morphs and grows like living sourdough as time progresses. Bourdain does play an important role in food criticism and enlightenment today, though some disagree; in my mind and others psyche's his passion for exotic and sometimes simplistic cuisine fuels the fire of progress and passion.

To trace the path my passion for varying cultural delicacies began, I remember like yesterday first plunging into "A Moveable Feast" and the urges it impacted in me toward new foods and ways of preparation. A quote that resonates with me because I could relate and was still withdrawn is when he says, "I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine." In a way I felt like I was there sensing the coldness of the iced oyster liquor as I had slide down my throat as it had many times before. Yet when I first read the book I had never tasted the earthy acidity of a Gascogne white or an Alsace or a chalk soiled white Bordeaux. The reading was an awakening to new horizons and hills that lay both ahead and behind. A love of cooking and description, a world of ingredients and seafood specimens yet to be cooked.

Cod, the same species I prepared the other night, has controlled so many individuals lives through its harvesting and the cultures with a severe investment in it. I loved the massive flaky chunks of fried cod that we consumed in England, but to keep the plate moving, or presentation if you will, a soup came to mind when I ran across the influential fish at the market.

A soup with the Italian goodness of cioppino without the frills of crustaceans to dig from their shells. A soup you can dunk a fist of french bread into and be contented with the broth filled with essences of safflower (a cheaper alternative to saffron, the flower instead of the stamen). And, to be honest Cod happened to be my catch of the day in staying true to you cioppino fanatics. But, who wouldn't prefer a fillet of cod and bits of tomato to just broth and bread?

Faux Cioppino

12oz. cod, skinned
1/2 tsp. anchovy paste
2 T. capers, and 1 tsp. brine
2 small Yukon gold potatoes
1-28oz. can stewed tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
1 1/2 medium yellow onions roughly chopped
1 large or 3 small shallots finely chopped
7 garlic cloves finely chopped
1/4 C. olive oil plus some for brushing fish
2 T. Old Bay seasoning
6 T. unsalted butter plus 3 T. for baking fish
3 tsp. plus 1 tsp. for cod fillets
2 T. safflower petals
2 T. fresh rosemary coarsely chopped
1/4 C. sherry
1/4 C. dry white wine such as chardonnay
salt and pepper

Put olive oil and six tablespoons butter in heavy pot and saute onions, shallots, garlic, capers and brine, and potatoes for four minutes or until vegetables (except potatoes) are softened over medium/high heat. Add tomatoes with juice as well as red pepper flakes, old bay, safflower, and salt and freshly ground pepper. Make sure not to over salt as sauce will become more pungent as it reduces.

Meanwhile spread three tablespoons butter over gratin dish, lightly oil cod, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes and cook for approximately 12 minutes in 375 degree oven or until fish just begins to flake but is still firm.

Then add sherry and wine to soup, cooking alcohol off for a couple minutes and crushing tomatoes with potato masher if smoother consistency is desired. Soup should cook a total of twenty to twenty-five minutes. Lay fish on top of soup and garnish with rosemary. Enjoy with fish flaked into soup with a chunk of hearty bread and a very fruity unoaked chardonnay.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Daring Cooks February Challenge

Happy Valentines Day everyone!

I feel like quite a slacker. From our travels, holiday and final craziness, this is the first post for a Daring Cooks challenge I've actually written, even though I've cooked them for two months! My Daring Baker status is questionable as well. I know, shame shame. But, no more self rebuke. This month's choice may be just what you're looking for this Valentine's day. It provided a nice light romantic meal for Daniel and I to share, and hopefully will be a welcomed addition to your romantic dinner repertoire.

The 2010 February Daring COOKs challenge was hosted by Michele of Veggie Num Nums. Michele chose to challenge everyone to make mezze based on various recipes from Claudia Roden, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Dugid.

The best way to describe a mezze is somewhat similar to a meal of Spanish tapas, but with traditional middle eastern flavors and dishes. If you're still looking for a romantic dinner idea, the mezze has some romantic potential as a meal enjoyed primarily with your hands. Some traditional items include not only the pita breads and hummus required by the challenge, but lentil salad, preserved lemons, tabbouleh, fattoush, olives, falafel, cucumber raita, etc. etc. We went slightly untraditional with ours (mainly because we were sticking to what was in the pantry/fridge) and made two different versions of the hummus, a plain and spicy roasted red pepper, lamb meatballs, and imported some Indian flavor in a mango papaya chutney. The recipe suggests that you can substitute any type of nut butter in place of the tahini, but I may suggest you be a little cautious in choosing a nut butter with a particular pronounced flavor (i.e. round one, we used peanut butter, and had peanut butter flavored wasn't bad...went well with the sweet chutney...but the plain version with the tahini was better).

Hummus – Recipe adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden
Prep Time: Hummus can be made in about 15 minutes once the beans are cooked. If you’re using dried beans you need to soak them overnight and then cook them the next day which takes about 90 minutes.
1.5 cups dried chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight (or substitute well drained canned chickpeas and omit the cooking) (10 ounces/301 grams)
2-2.5 lemons, juiced (3 ounces/89ml)
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
a big pinch of salt
4 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste) OR use peanut butter or any other nut butter—feel free to experiment) (1.5 ounces/45 grams)
additional flavorings (optional) I would use about 1/3 cup or a few ounces to start, and add more to taste
1. Drain and boil the soaked chickpeas in fresh water for about 1 ½ hours, or until tender. Drain, but reserve the cooking liquid.
2. Puree the beans in a food processor (or you can use a potato masher) adding the cooking water as needed until you have a smooth paste.
3. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Adjust the seasonings to taste.

Pita Bread – Recipe adapted from Flatbreads & Flavors by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
Prep time: 20 minutes to make, 90 minutes to rise and about 45 minutes to cook
2 teaspoons regular dry yeast (.43 ounces/12.1 grams)
2.5 cups lukewarm water (21 ounces/591 grams)
5-6 cups all-purpose flour (may use a combination of 50% whole wheat and 50% all-purpose, or a combination of alternative flours for gluten free pita) (17.5 -21 ounces/497-596 grams)
1 tablespoon table salt (.50 ounces/15 grams)
2 tablespoons olive oil (.95 ounces/29 ml)
1. In a large bread bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water. Stir to dissolve. Stir in 3 cups flour, a cup at a time, and then stir 100 times, about 1 minute, in the same direction to activate the gluten. Let this sponge rest for at least 10 minutes, or as long as 2 hours.
2. Sprinkle the salt over the sponge and stir in the olive oil. Mix well. Add more flour, a cup at a time, until the dough is too stiff to stir. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 to 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Rinse out the bowl, dry, and lightly oil. Return the dough to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until at least doubled in size, approximately 1 1/2 hours.
3. Place a pizza stone, or two small baking sheets, on the bottom rack of your oven, leaving a 1-inch gap all around between the stone or sheets and the oven walls to allow heat to circulate. Preheat the oven to 450F (230C).
4. Gently punch down the dough. Divide the dough in half, and then set half aside, covered, while you work with the rest. Divide the other half into 8 equal pieces and flatten each piece with lightly floured hands. Roll out each piece to a circle 8 to 9 inches in diameter and less than 1/4 inch thick. Keep the rolled-out breads covered until ready to bake, but do not stack.
5. Place 2 breads, or more if your oven is large enough, on the stone or baking sheets, and bake for 2 to 3 minutes, or until each bread has gone into a full balloon. If for some reason your bread doesn't puff up, don't worry it should still taste delicious. Wrap the baked breads together in a large kitchen towel to keep them warm and soft while you bake the remaining rolled-out breads. Then repeat with the rest of the dough.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Good Morning Love

Daniel & I are always torn about what to do around Valentine's day. Do we go out for a nice dinner and fight the crowds, stay in and make a nice dinner together. Or do something else entirely. Maybe we're not the only bloggers in the world who face this dilemma, but whenever it comes up, I typically favor some sort of compromise, usually a baked one. 

No matter what your plans are for the day, a nice freshly baked breakfast treat is a nice way to show anyone that you care and were thinking about them first thing in the morning. I've included three baked treats on the post, but feel free to check out any of these other recipes:
Or if you're interested in something a little more savory:

Traditional English Scone
 2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 Cup Raisins
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup white sugar (reserve 2 tbsp)
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with nonstick slipmat or parchment paper. Next, combine flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and into a bowl.Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the raisins, sugar (except for reserved 2 tbsp), and enough milk to mix to a soft dough. Knead lightly. Using 1/4 cup measuring cup, measure out scone and place on baking sheet. Brush with milk to glaze and sprinkle with remaining sugar. Bake  10 minutes then cool on a wire rack. Serve with butter, jelly, or clotted cream if you're lucky enough to find it!

Cranberry Pistachio "un"Coffee Cake (no topping)
1/2 granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup butter or margarine
  2 cups all-purpose flour

1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
1/4 Cup FlaxseedMeal
1/4 cup pistachios
1/4 Cup Cranberries teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup buttermilk
2 Tbsp Flax Seed Meal Dissolved in 6 Tbsp Water (or two eggs)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon  baking powder 

1 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat oven to 350*F (175*C). Grease a 9 inch square baking pan.
Combine sugars and butter. In separate bowl, combine flours, flax seed meal (not the one dissolved in water), baking powder, soda, and salt. Add dissolved flax seed and vanilla to sugar/butter mixture.  Add flour mixture to butter mixture. Mix in buttermilk. Add pistachios and cranberries. Stir until just combined. Mixture should be lumpy.
To the remaining crumb mixture add the rest of the ingredients from the buttermilk to the baking soda and stir by hand to combine. Mixture will be slightly lumpy.
Pour into prepared baking pan. Bake for 20 or 30 minutes or until tested done when wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve warm.

Double Chocolate Biscotti
4 oz semisweet chocolate chopped finely
1 cup packed brown sugar
1-3/4 Cup All Purpose Flours
1/3 Cup Dutch Processed cocoa
1 Tsp Baking Soda
3 Eggs
2 Tsp Vanilla
1/2 Cup Mini Chips*

Preheat oven to 300. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. In food processor or magic bullet, pulse chocolate and brown sugar until fine. In bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking soda. In separate bowl, beat eggs and vanilla. Add flour and chocolate mixture to eggs. When dough begins to come together, add chips. Continue mixing until a stiff dough forms. 
Divide dough in half. Roll each half into one long log (about 1 ft), and place on sheet. 

Bake at 300 for 35-40 minutes until firm. Remove from oven and let cool 10-15 minutes. Transfer logs to cutting board (carefully) and using serrated knife cut along the bias to make cookies between 1/2 and 1 inch wide. Place cookies, one cut side down, back on sheet. Bake 15 minutes on each side (30 total), until crisp and dry. Let cool. Ice with chocolate frosting or a chocolate glaze

*consider trying nuts, white chocolate, or experimenting!!


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Baking Therapy

It feels like forever since I’ve written a post, although it’s only been a week-ish. This past week has been absolutely crazy for me because of school. As of last week I’m officially slotted to sit my Master’s Examine in May which has prompted an increased amount of work and stress as I begin writing 50 pages by the end of March, leaving me little time to comment and visit my usual weekly round of blogs. But such is life. What makes it worse I think is that I’ve become a computer hog as well, writing from the afternoon until the wee hours of the morning, leaving Daniel little time for blog surfing as well. I think he wrote is last post during two 15-minute window sessions in which I was searching for books or reading. He's resorted to outlining them during a break at work to type as quickly as possible when he can. Nevertheless, with the increase in my stress levels tends to come an increased amount in baked goods. 
I’m not sure why exactly it is, but baking something is the most rewarding way for me to take a break. Usually its quiet apart from the soft crack of a few eggs and the melodic scrape of the wooden spoon folding along the bowl.  Nothing that requires an electric mixer will do for this type of baking, just your basic cookies, cakes, muffins, brownies, etc. Just folding flour into brownies or a cake seems to zap the stress right out. After I put whatever sweet that strikes my fancy (and ingredient ability) into the oven, the warm aromas of vanilla and sweet baked goodness fill the kitchen and the living room, making the return to work easier with an anticipated reward within the next hour. A delightful combination of temporary breaks and aroma therapy. 
Having kicked myself into extra high stress mode, this week called for a powerful dose of taking a step back, and so I decided to employ a secret weapon: Lavender. I don’t know where it came from. I vaguely remember babysitting and the mom had purchased a ‘soothing lavender’ baby bath product because it supposedly helped the baby sleep better. Nonetheless, it seemed to fit perfectly. Daniel immensely enjoys reminiscing about his family over a pound cake, and I’d been wanting to try one highlight olive oil, and lavender seemed to me a perfect complement.  I was initially surprised (and wary) as I prepared the lavender honey-almond topping for the cake at the strong perfume scent of the lavender ground with the sugar. But, I’d read cautionary tales of the potential blandness of olive oil pound cakes, and although I think it would have been good on its own the mix of the warm cake smell and lavender were just what I needed to take a quick break and give me the slightest hint that this too shall pass.
Olive Oil Pound Cake
2-1/4 Cup Flour
1 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Baking Powder
3/4 Cup Olive Oil
1-1/2 Cups Sugar
1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
1 Tbsp Vanilla
3 Eggs
2/3 Cup Milk

Preheat oven to 325. Grease 2 small loaf pans (I used one to large and got a relatively short cake) with olive oil.
Combine flour, salt, baking powder in one bowl. In another bowl, add olive oil and begin beating in sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla until well blended. Add eggs one at a time mixing well after each. Add milk and mix for 1-2 minutes.
 Gradually add flour to olive oil mixture, folding until well blended. Divide equally.
Bake 45-50 minutes until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool at least 15 minutes remove from pan. If adding topping, place cake on baking sheet. Follow topping directions and then let cool completely.

Lavender Honey-Almond Topping (enough for 1)
1/2 Cup Slivered Almonds
1/4 Cup Honey
1 Tbsp Lavender Ground with 1 Tbsp Sugar using Mortar & Pestle
Preheat oven broiler.
In microwave safe bowl add honey, and lavender/sugar mixture. Warm in microwave in 20 second intervals until sugar dissolves and honey is thin and watery, stirring in between each interval.
Quickly add almonds and gently stir to coat.
Spread on top of cake.
Place under broiler for approximately 2 minutes until almonds have toasted and honey begins to caramelize.
Let cool before slicing cake.

I’ve tried other ways to relax with the recommended hourly breaks you should take when studying or working, but they all tend to have the opposite effect. Quiet time, a tv break, or reading my favorite blogs lose their enjoyment and seem to just remind me that I’m wasting time and cutting into to time with Daniel or time to sleep. But baking. With baking, even though I’m taking a break, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. A little reward for myself. Something to thank my husband with for putting up with the irritability that accompanies stress. And something to share later.