Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sea Dreams and Chowder

I've always loved the ocean for as long as I can remember. Both my parents loved the beach even though my Dad wasn't a swimmer and my Mom's fair freckled skin burns easily. When I was little there were many summers when we would pile into the station wagon, my Dad would expertly fit in more luggage and beach paraphernalia than the back of the wagon should have held, and off we would go to the Eastern shore, usually to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

It was bliss to spend long days swimming in the ocean, making drip sand castles, lying on towels reading books and listening to the surf washing up on shore. Often we would eat fresh fish or oysters for dinner since the beach cottage always had a kitchen.

I still love the ocean and now I live a half hour drive away so I don't have to wait for summer. I also love fish and usually prepare it very simply. This week our local market had 10 0z jars of fresh local oysters on sale. There was also fresh coho salmon from Alaska at a not-too-astronomical price. I even found some tiny already cooked shrimp in the freezer section to add to the seafood.

For some reason as I was growing up and reached the age when I was old enough to cook dinner, my day to cook ended up being Friday. I suspect it may have been because no one else wanted to cook on Friday (no meat as we were good Catholics and this was far enough back that meat was off limits on Fridays), but it may also have been because I was slow in finishing my school work some days, so a Friday dinner responsibility didn't conflict with my studies.

Whatever the reason, I was the Friday cook and became very comfortable with cooking fish. When my Dad would show up with jars of fresh oysters on occasion, he almost always wanted them prepared as fried oysters...a messy and time consuming job! As you might imagine, when I bought oysters this week frying them was not what I had in mind.

As I found various kinds of seafood available it occurred to me that I could make a seafood chowder, full of all kinds of veggies and the seafood and that I could thicken it with mashed potatoes. To make it even better, I made part of the chowder one day and let it sit overnight to mingle the flavors, then finished it off tonight. The mashed potatoes were served hot with our evening meal the first night and the leftovers mashed potatoes were then stirred into the chowder base.

What was ladled into bowls tonight was a stupendous soup with celery, onions, mushrooms, parsley, those mashed potatoes, corn, peas, salmon, shrimp, oysters, and some pancetta, although you could leave that out if you wanted no meat at all.

Pancetta, which looks sort of like bacon

This soup is a dreamy sea-inspired chowder, perfect for chilly weather. You can always substitute other fish for the salmon, but make sure it is firm fish like cod or snapper or halibut. Frozen shrimp is readily available and sometimes you can also find scallops, calamari or other interesting substitutions.

If you are not using fresh oysters you will need to purchase some clam juice...about 6 - 8 oz should do substitute for the oyster juices.

As for the veggies, I would keep the onions and celery, although you could use yellow or white onions instead of the red. Idaho or baking potatoes make the best mashed potatoes for the thickener.

Fresh corn and/or peas are always great. Red pepper would be a nice addition...about 1/4 you can see that this is a recipe that can be played with pretty extensively and you will come out with a yummy seafood chowder no matter what you choose. Just remember to heat things through and to cook the seafood over a low heat so that it stays tender.

We served it up with a nice green salad some some fresh from the oven graham sourdough. I keep making this recipe over and over because I love the taste and it is so easy (if I keep the graham sourdough fed).

Seafood Chowder
Serves 2 - 4

1/8 lb pancetta, chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, washed and chopped
1/2 cup fresh mushrooms, wiped clean and chopped
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 cup water
2 cups mashed potatoes (see below if you need a recipe)
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup cooked, flaked salmon
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1/2 lb baby shrimp
10 oz. (1 jar) fresh oysters including their juices

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, over medium-low heat, cook the pancetta, stirring often, about 5 minutes to render some of the fat and to crisp the pancetta somewhat. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Put in an airtight container and refrigerate until time to finish the chowder.

To the same pot, with the pancetta drippings, add the chopped red onion. Stir to coat with the fat and cook, covered, for 5 minutes, stirring often, until translucent. Add the celery, stir and cover the pot and cook for 2 minutes. Add the fresh mushrooms, cover and cook 2 minutes. Uncover the pot, add the lemon juice and use a wooden spoon to deglaze the pan and scrape up the browned bits. Add the water, stir and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the mashed potatoes, stir to combine. Mixture will be thick. Cover and refrigerate overnight or at least 3 hours to combine the flavors.

Place the saucepan with the mashed potato mixture over low heat and heat through, stirring often. Once mixture is hot add the flaked salmon, Italian parsley, peas, corn and baby shrimp. Stir to combine and continue to heat over low heat, stirring often, until everything is heated through.

While this is heating, recrisp the pancetta either on a paper towel in the microwave or by frying briefly in a small frying pan.

Once the chowder is heated through, add the oysters and their liquid. If the oysters are large, use a sharp knife to cut them into two or four pieces before stirring them into the chowder. Continue to heat the chowder for another 3 minutes or so until the oysters are just heated through.

Serve at once, garnished with a sprinkle of the pancetta on top.

Mashed Potatoes
5-6 large Idaho or baking potatoes, scrubbed, halved, and sliced, then put into a pot of cold water to cover
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper to taste

Note: I like chunky mashed potatoes and I love potato skins so I leave them on. For a more refined mashed potatoes, peel the potatoes before cutting and use a potato ricer once the potatoes are drained.
Put the pot of prepared potatoes over high heat and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer about 20-30 minutes or until tender when pierced with the point of a sharp knife.

Drain the cooked potatoes and return them to the pot. Off heat, mash them with a potato masher. They will still be somewhat chunky.

Meanwhile heat the milk to scalding. Add to the potatoes with the butter, salt and pepper and mash some more until the potatoes are the consistency you like. Serve at once while still hot.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Frost is on the Pumpkin

It was cold enough this morning for there to be frost on the north facing roofs...and probably the pumpkins, too. Haven't gotten my pumpkins this year. SO many things to do and so little time is how it feels. Still, I'm VERY glad it is favorite season.

One of the nice things about cooler weather is that soup begins to show up frequently on my menu planner...especially for lunches. Last weekend I used up the canned pumpkin left after making the yummy Cake Slice pumpkin chocolate chip loaf cake. At first I was tempted to make some thing sweet with it like muffins or waffles. Fortunately for my waistline I finished cleaning the fridge out at lunch time. Surely I could make a nice lunch using the canned pumpkin (about 3/4 cup of it)? Soup seemed just the thing since it was raining like crazy outside and I believe that rainy weather goes well with soup any day.

What I created is pretty simple but really warm and comforting soup. It has some onions, some pumpkin, some spinach and some chicken broth (although veggie broth works, too), some pre-cooked brown rice plus salt and pepper. Thats it, and yet I feel that it beats any canned soup hands down. Dig in to a bowl and see for yourself!

Pumpkin Spinach and Rice Soup
Serves 2

1/2 yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil or grapeseed oil
3/4 to 1 cup canned pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
1 cup cooked, chopped spinach, drained (I used chopped frozen spinach but fresh is even better)
1 cup already cooked brown rice (or you can use white rice)
2 cups rich chicken stock or canned chicken broth or vegetable broth
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional garnish: Parmesan cheese, grated

In a medium saucepan, saute' the onion in the oil until transluscent, about 5 minutes.

Add the canned pumpkin, chopped spinach and rice and mix to combine.

Add the chicken stock or broth (I often use canned broth for quick soups. I try to use the low sodium and low fat versions.) Stir to combine all ingredients and heat over medium heat until heated through.

Taste for seasonings and adjust to taste with salt and pepper.

Ladle into bowls and enjoy while hot. If desired, sprinkle with about 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese. (Still too bland? Add a few dashes of hot sauce or a pinch of cayenne pepper or chipotle powder.)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Two Dads and Fudge and a Birthday

My enthusiasm for writing and posting on this blog has risen and fallen and risen again over the years. I'm in a middle ground sort of place now...happy to blog but finding it harder to find the time. I guess that is not too surprising when you consider that today I have been doing this blog for FOUR YEARS!

To celebrate my four year blogoversery I'm doing my first giveaway ever! All you have to do is comment (c'mon, you know you want to!), making sure that there is another blog or an e-mail address attached to your comment. You can comment on the four years (or any post during that time) or you can comment...and I hope you do...on this post.

What am I giving away? Some goodies from Sur la Table, one of my favorite goodies and gadgets store for cooking and baking. I purchased corporate gifts here, but it is a store I like to browse in and, occasionally, shop in. Here is a photo of what I'll be sending the lucky commenter. Included are a digital timer (which would be very useful for the following recipe), an instant read thermometer (not good for fudge but good for many other temperature measurements), and one of my favorite kitchen implements, a microplane grater, especially great for zesting citrus, but it does a good job on hard cheese and many other foods.

The drawing will be random and I'll contact the winner (and announce who it is...and their blog if they have one) to get their mailing address.

So that takes care of the birthday! What better way to celebrate than to have a guest blogger, especially when that blogger is NoHandle.

In my family the fudge maker was my Dad. Dad had a sweet tooth but was pretty picky about what he ate to appease that sweet tooth. Any kind of fruit pie was usually top of the list. He liked Coca Cola, especially on a hot day. When it came to candy, he liked fudge, especially black walnut fudge.

Maybe fudge making is a Dad kinda thing because it looks like NoHandle, who is also a Dad, makes awesome fudge. If you read this post carefully and follow his suggestions and instructions step by step, you will very likely make awesome fudge, too. If you are a Dad and don't know how to make fudge, it might be a good idea to try this. Your children will go on and on about it for decades if you do...especially if the fudge is good!

Aw, Fudge! , by NoHandle

As you may have seen, if you read the comments on this blog, I have a certain fame (notoriety?) for my fudge making ability. I come by this honestly as Dad loved to do this too. Fudge is easy to do badly, and only somewhat harder to get right. What I want in fudge is a creamy consistency, but not like peanut butter, it should have a bit of crystalline structure to it. I want a great chocolate taste, of course. I don’t tend to add a lot of other flavors; one kind of nut is about as far as I go, and Black Walnuts are a family favorite. Pecans are good too. This is the KISS principle at work. The recipe itself comes from a Hershey’s Cocoa box (Hershey calls it their most difficult), but the devil is in the details. Let me bedevil you.

The ingredients are simple; sugar, cocoa powder, whole milk, butter (not margarine), vanilla extract (again, the real stuff is so much better), and salt. Nuts are optional. I prefer Dutch Process cocoa, but the ordinary kind is OK too. I just got some from Penzey’s, so this will be a bit of an experiment; I usually use Hershey’s. I am talking here about a full batch, but I often just do a half batch. The only cooking change is a smaller pan.

The method is simple, but time and temperature (even more so) are critical. So is cleanliness and moisture control. Keep water away from chocolate when you cook. The first step is to mix the cocoa powder into the sugar, mixing it well enough that the mixture is evenly light brown. There will be extra bits of cocoa powder floating on the top, but that’s OK.

Next, stir in the milk. There will still be renegade chunks of cocoa powder. Now you can turn on the heat to medium.

A few words about equipment are appropriate here as things heat up. The pot needs to be squeaky clean and dry, and larger than you might originally expect. Fudge froths up a lot as it boils, so for a full batch I use a 4 quart sauce pan.

I always use a candy thermometer, but the first time I make fudge in a new situation, I only observe the temperature. I use the candy-maker’s “ball” measure for doneness. I’ll talk about that later in the post. I have mentioned that I live at altitude, and I will tell you that temperature for fudge making is less precise than the ball measure. At sea-level a soft ball is 234 to 240 degrees.

Early on, as the fudge comes to a boil, the froth will rise, then it will fall, losing about half of its extra height. That is the stage when you need to start paying closer attention. Throughout this stage, I recommend stirring occasionally, every few minutes, say five or so. When stirring, be sure the bottom of the pot stays clean or the mixture will burn. Also clean the sides as the froth falls, so that sugar crystals don’t form there. It doesn’t need to be perfectly clean, a thin layer is OK. Clumps are not.

Right about now, the mixture will take on a bubbly satin sheen. You will recognize it when you see it. If you have calibrated your candy thermometer, watch as it approaches the temperature. The last few degrees go very fast.

Now is the time to start testing for doneness. Take a small bowl or teacup of very cold (out of the tap, you don’t need ice cubes unless your tap water is warm) and drip a bit of the fudge mixture into it. It will either pool on the bottom (not ready yet), form a firm ball (when rolled with fingers), and with no “tail” (you’ve gone too far; try adding a half cup of milk and hope for the best), or a soft ball (again when rolled with fingers) and a bit of a tail (Goldilocks time; just right.

Firmer is better than too soft.

Note the temperature for your next attempt, and remove the pot from the heat. I like to put it on a trivet or folded towel so it doesn’t cool too quickly. You can remove the thermometer now if you want, or you can wait until it has cooled. I take it out.

Pour the vanilla extract on top of the fudge, and gently drop the butter on top of that. Do not stir or otherwise disturb the fudge.

As Alton Brown often says, “Just walk away.” Allow the fudge to rest for about 15-20 minutes, checking on how hot it is during the last 10 minutes or so. I use the “fever method” that is, I place my palm on the side of the pot at the level of the fudge. If it is too hot to keep contact, it’s still too warm. If it is running a mild fever, I may have waited too long, but stirring time will be short (but it may seize up). I am looking for a temperature somewhere around 110 degrees, but I’m not that precise about it. Warmer is safer, but more work.

While waiting for the fudge to cool, you should put a sheet of aluminum foil on a cookie sheet, and rub a thin layer of butter (salted or sweet, it doesn’t matter) on it, all over. If some stuck to the paper wrapper, use that, and use the end of the rest of the stick, leaving it wrapped. Then sprinkle salt lightly over the butter. Salt really brings out the chocolate flavor. After the salt, add chopped nuts if nuts are part of you plan. Many people mix them into the fudge, but I find that having a layer on the bottom works just as well, and is also easier to stir (well, beat really).

I guess the next step is obvious, it is also very important. You need to beat the now melted butter into the fudge mixture.

There will seem to be a lot of butter at first, but it goes quickly. In addition to distributing the butter, this will add a bit of air to the fudge, and will create that smoothness I mentioned at the start. It may take a while, up to 15 minutes, depending on the temperature when you start, the humidity, and how firm the ball was. Your patience will be rewarded. I use a fresh, long wooden spoon, and just beat as fast as the viscous liquid will permit. As with the boiling, there is a satin texture that develops before it starts to harden, and ribbons form. Watch for it. The whole mass will start to stiffen, and it is time to pour onto the prepared cookie sheet.

If you stop beating too soon, while it is a thin soup, the texture will suffer, and it will take a while to harden enough to eat. If you wait too long, the fudge will harden in the pot, and you will end up with rough, irregular chunks that look a bit like lava (the stone, not the soap). It will taste OK, but may have more grain to it, and be difficult to extract (use a chisel :-). In the middle, it may start to harden just as you pour. Just use your hands to flatten it on the cookie sheet, cover with wax paper if you like. If your timing is good, it should start to harden within minutes. This is a good time to cut it into pieces. I favor small squares (about three quarters of an inch) but you can go smaller or triangular if you choose.A pizza cutter is the tool of choice.

There is the possibility that it won’t harden, or stay sticky. This is nature’s way of telling you to have more patience, or use more muscle. It probably didn’t cook long enough. I had this problem early on. The best remedy is to re-heat it and use it as a chocolate sauce, then start over on your fudge journey.

Congratulate yourself, and share and enjoy! Don’t let the fudge clinging to the spoon or pot escape your attention. The crumbs on the cookie sheet are also your immediate reward for a job well done.

Here are the ingredients (available on the Hershey web site too):

3 Cups granulated sugar
.67 Cup cocoa powder
1.5 Cups whole milk
.125 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
.25 Cup butter (1/2 stick) at room temperature
.5 Cup chopped nuts

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Welcome to Cake Slice and Pumpkin

I’ve been happily visiting Katie’s blog Apple and Spice for quite some time and always admired the creations she made as part of the baking group Cake Slice.

When she mentioned that they had finished the book they were working on and so could accept new members I jumped at the chance to belong. Although I loved the Daring Bakers when they were smaller, lately they seem to have grown bigger than I’m comfortable with…it is hard to be part of such a large community and still feel connected to the members. The Cake Slice isn’t tiny, but seems somehow cozier. The members have certainly been welcoming and I’ve discovered some new and wonderful blogs, too.

For my first month as a member the recipe of choice is Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Pound Cake from our current book Cake Keeper Cakes by Lauren Chattman.

I baked the recipe just as written except that I baked it in four small loaf pans instead of one large one. I love the pumpkin flavor mixed with chocolate and walnuts. The spice is just assertive enough but doesn’t take over. Perhaps it was my technique, but my cakes were more like quick breads than pound cake in texture…fairly open crumbed. I can attest that not only are slices of this cake great with both coffee and tea, but when baked in smaller loaves they make very welcomed gifts.

We have something like 99 more recipes in this great book, so visit again next month to see what the Cake Slice bakers are baking.

Right now, before you forget, do visit some of my new baking buddies. The Cake Slice blogroll is found HERE.

This is an easy to make cake, although there are a few tips:
1) Make sure to really cream the butter and the sugar. Take your time.
2) Add the eggs one at a time, not all at once. I found I really needed to scrape the bowl after each one had been mostly incorporated.
3) The batter will look curdled right before you add the flour mixture. That’s OK. It turns out fine once the flour mixture goes in.

October’s Cake: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Pound Cake
(Recipe from Cake Keeper Cakes by Lauren Chattman)
Makes one 9 by 5 inch loaf cake

1¾ cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground cloves
Pinch nutmeg
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1¼ cups sugar
3 eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup milk
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

Heat the oven to 350F. Coat the inside of a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray and dust with flour.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, cloves and nutmeg in a medium mixing bowl.

Combine the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and cream with an electric mixer on medium high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice as necessary.

With the mixer on medium low speed, add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Stir in the pumpkin puree and vanilla. Stir in the milk.

Turn the mixer to low speed and add the flour mixture, ½ cup at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Stir in the chocolate chips and walnuts.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Bake the cake until it is firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean, 55 minutes to 1 hour.
Let the cake cool in the pan for 5 minutes, invert it onto a wire rack and then turn it right side up on a rack to cool completely.

Store uneaten cake in a cake keeper at room temperature for up to 3 days or in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic for up to 1 week.

Note: If baking in smaller pans, check the doneness after 30 -35 minutes.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Babes Broa for Bread Baking Day 2010

Soft and Savory Broa

The October bread for the Bread Baking Babes is a yeasted corn bread. Kitchen of the Month Blogging from OUR Kitchen hostess Elizabeth piqued my interest by describing the Portuguese Broa that she remembered having when she first moved to her new neighborhood years ago. In hopes of making it as authentic I tried to hunt down white corn flour and meal. Unfortunately all I could find was yellow corn flour and we had some polenta style corn meal in the pantry, so I went with that.

Right from the start it seemed like I was baking a different bread than Elizabeth had, not even including the white vs yellow corn component. Polenta is usually cooked in three times the water as the volume of the corn meal. The recipe called for equal amounts so I ended up using my hands to combine the cooled polenta with the whole wheat and yellow corn flours, plus the amount of white flour we were to start with. When I started mixing that with the ½ cup of water that I’d used to reactivate the dry yeast it was clear that this was a very stiff, not slack, dough…the exact opposite of what Elizabeth had described.

What to do? Well I decided to go for broke and added and additional ½ cup of water, kneading everything together on the board using my hands and the bench scraper. I was having so much fun that I neglected to find out when to add the salt, so I ended up with no slat in the dough so I glazed the finished loaf and sprinkled it with sea salt so that there was some salt on the bread if not in it. I followed along with the recipe until the part where you allow it to rise for 1 – 4 hours. By then (I started the bread after work) I was ready to go to bed. The dough, plate on top, was retarded in the fridge overnight.

After that, except for the egg glaze and sea salt, I followed the recipe and ended up with a moist loaf with a nice salty, crunchy crust, and plenty of corn flavor. The crumb included some texture from the polenta and it was fairly loose without any major air holes, and the loaf was a bit on the flat side but we liked that. Sweetie and Straightshooter really seemed to enjoy it and half the loaf was gone pretty quickly even though we had sliced it thinly. I served it with chili and a salad when it was barely warm. The next day thin slices went into the toaster and came out even crunchier and more delicious, if that is possible.

Thank you Elizabeth, for choosing a bread I might never have tried to make. Very glad that this was our Babes October challenge! Now, about World Bread Day...see below.

If you would like to be a Buddy, bake this flavorful moist bread and post about it by October 29th and let Elizabeth know so that she can send you her badge. Head on around to the other Babes’ sites and you will probably see this bread as it is supposed to be made, not my poor attempt. The links are on the sidebar toward the top.

Last, but not least, next month we will be asking for suggestions for the third Anniversary celebration bread. Somehow between Thanksgiving, Harvest, Christmas and New Years the Babes will figure out the bread for February and we are counting on our friends and Buddies and lurkers to challenge us with great bread ideas. Check back around the middle of November for specifics on how to get those ideas to the Babes. I know, dear reader, that you will surprise and delight us!

This bread goes over to Susan at Wild Yeast for the weekly Yeastspotting event, plus it is my bread for World Bread Day…which, by happy coincidence, is TODAY!..., hosted by Zorra at 1x umruhrem bitte. Last year there was a great deal of participation in World Bread Day so it is likely that this year it will be even more popular as people around the globe reconnect with the older rhythms and rituals that connect us, like baking bread, that are now being recognized as an essential part of our humanity. HAPPY BREAD BAKING DAY!
Head over HERE for Yeastspotting and HERE for World Bread Day and HERE for the Broa recipe.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Lemony Quick Chicken Dish

Sweetie is amazing! Yesterday it was so hot that it almost hurt to breathe, but he played almost two hours of tennis in the late afternoon anyway.

The high was over 100 degrees and the office was about 80 degrees, so I was actually glad to hop in the car and head off to the nursery supply for PVC fitting for my boss once he found the leak on his property. The car has a great air conditioning system so I was cool for a while.

Hard to believe that it is almost the middle of October because it feels like summer is supposed to feel inland. Didn't stop me from making a warm chicken dish to go with the rice that Sweetie started in the rice cooker before he went off to swing at tennis balls. Once I was home from work I wanted to make something quick and tasty.

This is a version of a dish I've been cooking for years and years. It's called Lemon Quick Chick and one of it's attributes is that it goes together in about a half hour. It took a bit longer to cook yesterday because I didn't cut up the chicken thighs, but it was still pretty fast.

This is a mild flavored dish with a great sauce so most kids love it. If you prefer a sauce that is thickened with something other than butter and flour you could probably get a fine sauce by adding a slurry of cornstarch and water and chicken broth after browning the chicken in a non-stick pan. If you like a bit more zing, you could sprinkle some cayenne pepper over the chicken but try it this way might find that mellow lemon chicken has a place on your dinner table after all.

Lemon Quick Chick

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
5-6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs or half breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 lemon, sliced thinly
minced parsley for garnish (optional)

In large skillet melt the butter, add the olive oil and heat until hot but not smoking. Add chicken pieces to the pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and then with the poultry seasoning. Saute' the chicken pieces until no longer pink and starting to turn golden brown.

Reduce heat to medium, sprinkle the flour over the chicken pieces. Stir for a minute or two to cook the flour a bit. Add the chicken broth all at once. Use a wooden spoon to scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pan and to mix in the broth. Place the lemon slices on top of the chicken, distributing them around the pan.

Reduce head to low. Cover the pan and let cook 15 minutes, stirring once or twice to keep chicken from sticking. Remove pan lid and continue to cook, if necessary, until sauce becomes thick.
Serve at once over rice, noodles or mashed potatoes.

Serves 3-4.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fruits and Nut Braid

For a number of reasons I needed a vacation, so Sweetie and I took one last week and visited some grand and natural wonders in southern Utah and northern Arizona.

You would be hard pressed to find more spectacular scenery, especially if you like rocks. We were able to squeeze in Las Vegas (well the airport anyway),

Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks.

and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

as well as a number of National Forests. We even took an unplanned trip past the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by heading in the opposite direction to where we wanted to go on our last day in Utah.

If you ever find yourself in the area, I can highly recommend two B&Bs. In St. George which is about 1 1/2 hours north of Las Vegas, we stayed in the Green Gate Village Inns,

which is a collection of buildings from the late 1800s which have been renovated beautifully. The accommodations were excellent and the breakfasts were lovely.

At the Purple Sage Inn in Kanab, further east near to Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon north rim, it was almost like staying in your own restored Victorian. The details were exceptional from unusual and beautiful bath and sink fittings to gorgeous wallpaper to lovely light fixtures to fine china on the table for breakfast. I fell in love with the kitchen and can imagine how great it would be to cook in a kitchen that is so well laid out and planned.

The front parlor is welcoming and we found that it was cool enough for a fire in the fireplace. The innkeeper, a native of Kanab, is hospitable, friendly and enjoyable to talk she is a great cook. Even though we had interesting conversations with other guests at the St. George B&B, at the Purple Sage it was somehow more like sitting around your own table and talking with new friends.

In the evening conversation was lively in the living room around the fireplace, too, although there are plenty of places to just hang out and read or spend some quiet time if that is what you prefer.

Now that we are home, the sourdough starters were fed and I decided to make a braid similar to one I made last year. Somehow the combination of golden raisins, cranberries and pecans seems right in the fall. This time I used some sourdough starter instead of dry yeast and I substituted maple syrup for the brown sugar. After all, maple syrup is a fall/winter kind of ingredient.

The braid baked up beautifully and is delicious with a cup of tea, toasted. We also enjoyed it as sandwich bread today as part of a turkey sandwich. Since it isn't very sweet it worked quite well.

I'm sending this over to Susan at Wild Yeast for the weekly Yeastspotting event...a wonderland of bread recipes...I highly recommend following the link if you love bread and other yeasted delights.

Festive Braid with Raisins, Cranberries, Pecans, Maple and Orange

1 cup sourdough starter
2 ¼ - 3 cups unbleached bread flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated orange zest (colored part only)
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons golden raisins
¼ cup dried cranberries
½ cup chopped toasted pecans
¼ cup maple syrup
1/3 cup warm milk (105 – 115 degrees F)
1 egg, slightly beaten
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

egg wash- 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
sanding sugar

Place sourdough starter in bottom of stand mixer bowl. Add the maple syrup, warm milk, and egg and mix to blend. Set aside.

Combine 1 ½ cups of the flour, salt, orange zest, raisins, dried cranberries and toasted chopped pecans in large measuring cup or bowl. Mix thoroughly.

Add the dry ingredients and the butter to the yeast mixture. Mix thoroughly.

Add enough remaining flour to make a soft dough. Knead using the stand mixer and the dough hook or knead on lightly floured surface until smooth, about 10 minutes.

Place in greased bowl, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in warm place until double in bulk – about 1 hour.

Punch down dough. Divide the dough into thirds. Make three ropes. Braid on a greased, parchment covered, or silicon mat covered baking sheet.

Cover and let rise in a warm place until double – about 30 -45 minutes. Brush with egg glaze and sprinkle with sanding sugar right before putting in the oven.
Bake in a preheated 400 degree F oven for 30 - 40 minutes. Check at 20 minutes. If crust is getting too brown, tent with aluminum foil. Interior temperature should be about 210 degrees F.

Cool on a wire rack.

Optional: Make the Confectioners’ Icing, then drizzle it over the cool loaf. Sprinkle with the additional pecans and some candied cherries to decorate. Let the icing dry before serving.

Confectioners Sugar icing: Mix together 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 1/4 teaspoon grated orange zest and 1-2 tablespoons milk.