Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Old Time Milling and Polenta

Last weekend we drove over the hills to Calistoga, then down the road to the Bale Grist Mill, a California State Park, to watch them mill corn into polenta.

Here is a diagram of the mill, with the water coming in by flume to the top of the water wheel which turns the wheel, which turns various gears, which in turn turn the millstone to grind the grain, also known as grist. The numbers refer to the description and photos below.

We had a very good guide in the miller. He knew the history and brought it to life with vivid descriptions of the Napa valley full of wheat fields (instead of grape vines), of the mill being a community center where neighbors met and gossiped while the grain was being turned into flour or corn meal or polenta (a coarser corn meal), of the flume being built to the newly constructed mill pond on higher ground so that there was year round water with some force behind it to turn the water wheel,(#1)

and stories about Dr. Bale who founded the mill and of Dr. Bale's widow making sure that after he died the mill had good French mill stones instead of the local quartz ones that the mill started with...and those stones are still in use!

He did a wonderful job of explaining the working parts of the mill, too, including the gears under the main floor.(#2)

Who knew that wooden gears were better than metal ones in a mill? The teeth could be replaced and the metal teeth could cause sparks and start a fire with all that flour flying around.

This mill had a set of mill stones for grinding flour and a set for grinding corn. Since the miller's helper had gone home sick, he asked for volunteers. Cucumber Spraygun was asked to turn the crank which engaged one set of gear with the ones turning the mill wheel on top (the bottom one is fixed). Here he is in action.(#3)

The miller was grinding polenta the afternoon we were there. They used to use Indian corn which is very colorful but some of the kernels grind into black specks...not too good for sales. Now they use plain yellow corn. Here is the set up for milling. The round box contains the stone wheels, the wedged box above holds the grain and there is a chute from it to the opening into the eye of the top stone wheel. From there is goes in between the stones and the grains sort of grind themselves...the stones never touch. (#4)

If you are lucky enough to obtain stone ground polenta, you can make this recipe, but if not, just shorten the cooking time by 3-4 minutes and use regular instant polenta from the store. Either way you can enjoy a grain that is very healthy for you, delicious, and in a dish that you can make ahead.

If you get to Napa County, California, check to see if the Bale Grist Mill is open. If it is, treat yourself to a journey to the past, plus a real-time opportunity to purchase delicious stone ground wheat flour, spelt flour and corn meal as well as this yummy polenta.

Grilled Cheese and Basil Polenta
Adapted from a Donna Hay (#40) recipe as posted on Technicolor Kitchen blog

3 cups (750ml) water
1 cup (170g) stone ground polenta
60g butter, chopped (I only used a tablespoon of butter)
½ cup (50g) finely grated Parmesan
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup basil leaves
2 cups (200g) shredded mozzarella cheese
olive oil, for brushing
ragu or marinara sauce, if desired

Place water in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Gradually whisk in the polenta and cook, stirring, for 5-8 minutes or until thickened and grains are no longer hard. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, Parmesan, salt and pepper. Pour half of the polenta into a 20cm (8 inch) square pan lined with non-stick baking paper (I used foil) and spread to smooth. Top with the basil, mozzarella and remaining polenta. Refrigerate for 45 minutes or until set.

Cut into squares/rectangles and brush with oil. Heat a char-grill pan or barbecue over high heat. (I used my cast iron skillet, well heated.) Cook the polenta for 3-4 minutes each side or until golden and the cheese has melted.

Serve topped with a generous serving of the pasta sauce or a ragu or marinara sauce of your choice.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Late But A Zebra Anyway

Good intentions are great but sometimes even with the best of intentions I neglect to do something I want to do. This month it was baking the wonderful Zebra Cake so that I could post with the Cake Slice Bakers on the 20th. Maybe it's because its summer, maybe its because of CS visiting, maybe its because I've been trying to eat foods that are better for my bod...for whatever reason the recipe sat in the kitchen unused until yesterday.

Never at a loss for ideas, once I did decide to bake the cake I also made a change and an addition. When the two batters get separated, I did whisk cocoa powder into the smaller amount, but I also added dried orange peel and some orange oil to the plain batter. Once the cake was baked and cooled, I gilded the lily with a ganache icing. Unfortunately I over heated the ganache and didn't start until 7:30 in the evening, so it was fully dark by the time we enjoyed the Zebra Cake, hence the not-so-great photos.

This was a fun cake to make and delicious, but the texture was not as tender as I would have liked. The chocolate/orange combination was lovely and it made an impressively tall slice...I'm glad I baked it in my 2 inch tall cake pan. The chocolate batter was thicker than the orange batter which might be why my zebra stripes ended up looking more like marble cake. Glad I made this one, even if it was late.

If you haven't already done so, do check out the other Cake Slice Bakers' versions of the Zebra Cake. They are mostly better than mine.

July’s Cake: Zebra Cake
Makes one 9 inch round cake

Zebra Cake
(Recipe from Cake Keeper Cakes by Lauren Chattman)

2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup whole or 2% milk
½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled
½ cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp unsweetened Dutch cocoa powder

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 9 inch pan, line with a circle of parchment paper, grease the parchment and dust with flour. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.

Combine the eggs and sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on high speed until thick and pale, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, stir in the milk, butter, oil and vanilla, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice as necessary. Stir in the flour mixture, ½ cup at a time.

Transfer a third of the batter into another bowl and whisk in the cocoa powder.
Place a quarter cup of the vanilla batter into the centre of the pan and let it stand for a few seconds so it spreads out slightly. Place 2 tablespoons of the chocolate batter right on top of the vanilla and wait another few seconds until it spreads. Continue alternating vanilla and chocolate until you have used up all the batter and it has spread to the edges of the pan.

Bake until the cake is set and a toothpick comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Run a sharp knife around the edge of the pan and invert the cake onto a cutting board. Peel away the parchment paper. Re-invert onto a wire rack and cool completely. Slice and serve.

Store uneaten cake in a cake keeper or wrap in plastic and store at room temperature for 3 days.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Zucchini Time Chocolate Bread

If you love zucchini squash this is a great time of year. If not, keep a watch on your porch because sometimes gardeners get overwhelmed with too many and will drop some on your doorstep under cover of darkness.

My squash plants are producing like mad. Fortunately over the years I've found fellow squash lovers who gladly take the extras so no midnight furtiveness is necessary for disposing of them.

One of the ways I love to eat zucchini is in a quickbread with cocoa and chocolate chips added. The first variation I baked had fresh cherries added. Another time I added chopped almonds, almond meal and fresh diced apricots but that version didn't please me, so it never made it onto the blog. This past week, with the help of Cucumber Spraygun who is visiting from the east coast, we made a version with walnuts and dried cranberries (Craisins) that was delicious.

For someone who usually bakes by herself, its sometimes difficult to bake with someone else, even an excellent baker like CS. I kept forgetting things so it was a good thing that we had laid out all of the ingredients. First I forgot that the sugar doesn't go with the dry gets beaten with the eggs. CS caught my mistake and we were able to scoop about 1/2 cup of the sugar out of the dry ingredients and beat it with the eggs. At the end I was so intent on not overmixing the batter that we completely left out the nuts

CS sprinkled them heavily on top which was a great save since it meant toasted walnuts...yum...but we think it may also have caused, somehow, for the bread to rise really high in the middle. Last, but not least, I didn't check the bread often enough so the edges ended up slightly burnt which is not good with chocolate.

The good news is that despite all of those errors we ended up with a lovely bread that was moist inside and delicious. It's also easy to make if you pay attention.

Some of the shredded zucchini that we prepared for going in to the bread was excess, so that went into meatloaf and a salad in subsequent days. We also eat zucchini grilled and I put it into my favorite spaghetti sauce, which can be found here. I'm thinking of making some banana bread and adding some shredded zucchini to that. I'll let you know if I do.

There are a few recipes, including the Cake Slice Baker July challenge, which will be posted later. Right now its more fun doing other things with CS and Sweetie...hope you understand. XO Elle

Chocolate Zucchini Bread with Dried Cranberries and Walnuts
based on:

brought to you via Robin Brande & Jama Rattigan & Tanita Davis

3 cups flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 ½ cups sugar
3 eggs or equivalent egg substitute
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup plain yogurt
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups shredded zucchini (about 2-3 medium zucchini)(measured after being squeezed dry)
½ cup chopped nuts ( we used walnuts)
1 pkg (12-oz) chocolate chips
½ cup died cranberries (Craisins)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two 9x5" loaf pans with canola spray.

In a large bowl, combine flour, cocoa, soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix well. In a separate bowl, beat eggs (or egg substitute and water) with the sugar until well combined. Add oil, yogurt and vanilla. Beat to combine, then stir in zucchini. Add wet bowl to dry bowl and stir until just moistened. Stir in nuts and chocolate chips and Craisins.

Spoon evenly into pans. Bake 55-60 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Check before 55 minutes...chocolate can burn easily.. Cool 10 minutes in pans, then turn onto racks. This bread is yummy when eaten still warm...the chips are melty and the fragrance is full chocolate!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

BBBabes Love Burger Buns

Almost everyone loves a burger or something from the grill that can go in a burger bun. The ever lovely and clever Bread Baking Babes are no exception.

Although Sweetie loves grilling year 'round, when the summer months hit we find that we turn to grilling most evenings of the week. He loves to make pulled pork from a slow cooked fresh piece of picnic pork and I've figured out a soy-based marinade for chicken thighs that's delicious and which I'll post one of these days, but a standby that never disappoints is the ever popular hamburger. Good quality beef and a light hand in making the patties are my only tips since Sweetie usually does the actual cooking.

We sometimes skip the rolls but not this last month. Thanks to the lovely Sara of I Like to Cook, our never boring Kitchen of the Month, the Bread Baking Babes made burger rolls!

This recipe, like the last one for Soda Bread, acknowledges that summertime baking can be different than baking during the rest of the year. There are so many fun things to do away from the kitchen, so 'quick and easy' is often the requirement for summer cooking and baking. These great Burger Buns from Williams-Sonoma fit that description. No overnight preferment, no triple rise, and just about two hours from the idea to the finished warm and crusty roll! If you want to make the popular mini version called sliders, Sara has kindly included directions and Karen of Bake My Day baked up a huge number of sliders so check out her post once it's up.

I enjoyed making them and eating them! I topped mine with a seed mix from King Arthur Flour and it looked like bird seed but tasted wonderful. (I guess bird seed tastes good to birds...but I'll never be a bird my friend.) I also used Irish wholemeal flour for half the flour which gave the rolls a nice nutty taste.

Because my buns usually have too much bread on top, for these I rolled out the dough and cut the buns using a 9.5mm round cutter. As a result my buns were just the right size around and not too tall but nicely rounded...perfect for that 'birdseed' topping.

Half the rolls were enjoyed with burgers at a 4th of July bbq, I used one for a turkey sandwich for lunch,

and the rest (which had been in the freezer to stay fresh) were split and grilled and enjoyed with local turkey sausages (Italian flavored and some with tomato-basil flavor) this week. I found that the ones that had been frozen were a little bit crumbly so I'll probably freeze them unbaked next time and bake them at the time I'll use them.

Don't forget to check out the other Bread Baking Babes' posts (links to right) and to make these delicious rolls yourself to be a Buddy... and feel free to change the size, shape, flours, toppings, etc. Remember, to be a Buddy, you need to e-mail Sara (iliketocookATshawDOTca) the link to your post (or a description of your baking session/results) and a photo by July 29th. That way you can be included in the round-up.

Sara wrote:
"Summer will soon be here and who doesn't like to bbq a burger or hot dog in the summer? And you just know that it will taste even better on a bun you've made yourself. The recipe gives directions to make regular sized burger buns as well as slider sized buns." Thanks Sara for a perfect challenge for July fun.

Homemade Hamburger Buns

1 1/2 cups (375 ml) milk
8 Tbs (1 stick/125 g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
4 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
4 cups (625 g) all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
(Note: I used 2 cups all-purpose flour and 2 cups Irish wholemeal flour)
5 Tbs sugar
1 Tbs kosher salt
1 egg beaten with 1 tsp water
sesame seeds for sprinkling (optional)or use the seed or seeds you enjoy

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk and butter and heat until the butter is melted, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool to 105-155'F (40 to 46'C). Add the yeast and stir until the yeast is dissolved. Let stand for 10 minutes.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the 4 cups of flour, the sugar and salt and beat on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Add the milk mixture and knead until the dough forms a ball, about 1 minute.

Increase the speed to medium low and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, oil the inside of the bowl and return the dough to the bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 10 by 7 1/2 inch (25 by 19 cm) rectangle. Using a ruler as a guide, cut the dough into 2 1/2 inch (6cm) squares. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet, spacing the buns evenly apart, and cover tightly with oiled plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400'F (200'C)

Remove the plastic wrap from the baking sheet. Brush the tops of the buns with the egg mixture (I brushed the tops with milk) and sprinkle with sesame (or other) seeds if using.

Bake until the buns and golder and an instant read thermometer inserted into the center of a bun registers 190'F (88'C), 14 to 16 minutes. Transfer the buns to a wire rack and let cool completely. Cut in half and use as hamburger buns. Makes 12 hamburger buns.

For slider buns:

Follow the instructions above but roll out the dough into a 9 inch (23 cm) square. Cut into 1 1/2 inch (4cm) squares and place on 2 parchment lined baking sheets. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes. Position one rack in the upper third of an over and one rack in the lower third and preheat to 400'F (200'C). Brush the tops with the egg mixture and sprinkle with sesame seeds if using. Bake for about 14 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and 180 degrees halfway through baking. Makes 36 slider buns.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Waffles and Musings on Blogging

Have you ever wondered what goes into a food blog post? If you have your own blog you already know, but if you mainly visit food blogs you might be interested in my process. If not you can skip down to the photo of the waffle with strawberries and cream and start reading there. I'm sure that there are as many variations on creating food blog posts as there are recipes for chocolate chip cookies...or even more than that, but the basics still are pretty universal. To me a good food blog post includes some writing about food or food related topics, there are almost always photographs and often a recipe.

The process actually starts with a lot of thought, as is true with many arts and crafts (and I leave it to you to decide if this is art or craft or a combination) because it helps to have an idea of what you want to cook, make, bake or explore in the vast topic of 'food'. Since I have a tendency to cook the same recipes over and over with minor variations, and since I usually avoid repeating recipes, my posts are usually baking ones. For some reason I feel more drawn to experiment with and write about baking. Many days as I drive to work I'll be thinking about possible variations on a recipe as I drive. At this time of year my thought stray to berries and what I love best about them and what new-to-me recipe I can bake using them.

After a decision is made about what to make then comes the recipe comparison time. Since baking is based on proportions that work well together I often compare basic recipes for what I have in mind, using recipes in cookbooks, magazines and on the Internet to help me make sure I understand the methods as well as quantities of ingredients. After that I play (again) with variations in my head and then head to the store if I'm missing ingredients or want super fresh ones.

Next comes my favorite part...making and baking. Although I know that mis en place - gathering all the ingredients and implements and pans together before starting - is the most professional, often I only gather stuff for the first part and then gather the rest while some of the recipe is beating or cooling or rising, etc. Same goes for preheating the oven. If the steps to take will take longer than 10 minutes I leave off preheating the oven until about 10 minutes before stuff goes into the oven. Saves on fuel and keeps me from feeling so rushed.

Before the actual making and baking begins I read the recipe all the way through and then read it again while checking for ingredients that are not ones commonly in my kitchen or pans or implements I don't usually use. Trust me, you don't want to be in the middle of a recipe and discover than you're all out of parchment, or vanilla or only have an 8 pan muffin tin when you need a 12 pan one.

Following a recipe might seem simple but if you stop to answer the phone and can't remember if you added that teaspoon of salt you might end up with a flat tasting cake or bread. If you are prone to making changes to any recipe you meet like I am, knowing which part to follow and which part to change requires even closer attention. I try to type up recipes, including the variations but have been know to scrawl variations on a sticky note stuck to the recipe that most closely resembles what I'm making. In general I give credit to the creator of that recipe.

If some part of the making and baking are visually interesting I'll take photos. I love the look of fruits and veggies and like to photograph them often. I'll also take photos to make it easier to understand a complicated recipe. I know food bloggers who take dozens and dozens of photos for one post...and their results are are awesome...but I try to stick to about 12 per post so that I end up with three or four in the post. It helps the post load faster if there aren't a lot of photos and I don't wish to take the time to go through dozens to find the best three. Maybe when I'm retired in 10 years or so :).

The finished dish always gets photographed and often there is a photo of the dish plated, too. If you decide to try food blogging the best thing to do is to visit lots and lots of food blogs and see what style and type of food photo suits you.

The food has been made, photographed and enjoyed. My next step is usually to process the photos. I'm pretty adept with Photoshop so it usually doesn't take me too long. I suppose if I were more picky I'd get better photos and it would take longer, but my enthusiasms extend to many other areas in my life so blogging gets its due share and no more. I always save the photos at 72 dpi which is low resolution. What you see on the Internet really doesn't look any better in high resolution than at 72 dpi and the lower resolution helps photos load faster, plus they take up less space on your hard drive. I often save them in a folder which is labeled with the name of the dish.

Now comes my favorite part (after eating the food) which is writing the post. Usually I have something I want to share with you about the food I've that's what I write. Sometimes I include tidbits of what is going on in my life and every now and then we visit the Land of St. Honore' for story time and pure fiction. No matter what the rest of the post contains, I try to make sure to mention anything that will help you re-create the recipe for yourself and your family. Posting the recipe also means that I can go back to it when I want to make it again...a digital recipe book of the best kind!

Although there are many ways to create a post I usually write the content, add the photos, add the links, check the spelling (if I'm not in a hurry to post) and then put it up. Usually I'll then check what you see and make changes or corrections if needed (and again if I have time). Lots of times I'm posting at night and too tired to be as diligent as I should be.

So that's what I do and the post itself, including taking the photos and processing them, takes about an hour to two hours. Research for the recipe is ongoing so I have no idea how long I spend on it. The recipes usually give some indication of how much time they require, but often I would be making them even if I didn't blog so I don't pay attention to that either.

If you are thinking of food blogging or already doing it and want to exchange ideas and information, feel free to comment or e-mail me. I can be a fun hobby which combines the creativity of cooking and baking, photography and writing.

So now that you have some idea on how my blog posts are created, for today the post will be about waffles. Unlike many recipes I post, this one is a variation of a recipe that I've posted before. There is something about the combination of fresh strawberries and crisp, airy hot sourdough waffles that calls to me every year. For this year's variation I let the starter sit for a few days before making the batter (and the batter sits overnight) so there was a lovely pronounced sourdough flavor and aroma to these beauties. I also used some of the Irish wholemeal style flour from King Arthur for half of the flour. The resulting waffles had a nice nuttiness from that flour, plus darling little flecks wheat goodness.

You can make these without a sourdough starter, too. You'll find that recipe at the end of this post:

You can serve these waffle with any toppings you like but they really don't need any additional butter. If you do want to top 'em with butter they will probably be even more delicious. Berries are my delight right now and we had some whipped cream handy, too. One version of total decadence is to sit in the sun next to the sweet peas and morning glories eating these luscious waffles, ripe sliced local strawberries and some whipped cream. Wish I could have shared.

NOTE: For those of you who can’t imagine having a single purpose item like a waffle iron, perhaps it helps that mine was from a garage sale and is eons old. It’s smallish and round and fits inside of a stew pot so it doesn't take up extra room in the cupboard. If it is still working when I die, my survivors will probably discard it, but for now it does the trick and produces nice circles of yummy, crispy waffles.

Amazing Overnight Wholemeal Waffles
adapted for sourdough starter
from Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Cafe' Cookbook

1 cup sourdough starter
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
½ cup water
Whisk together and let sit, uncovered, at room temperature for 2 hours

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup Irish wholemeal wheat flour
all of the sponge
1/8 teaspoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs

Nonstick spray
Butter (and bread) for the waffle iron
Sliced strawberries
Whipped cream if you are feeling decadent or maple syrup if you prefer

Combine the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the sponge that has sat for 2 hours waiting for this moment, and whisk to combine. Add the milk and whisk until blended. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand overnight at room temperature (or put in the fridge if room temp. is over 70 degrees F.)

The next morning, preheat the waffle iron. Melt the 6 tablespoons butter and let cool a bit. Beat the egg is a small bowl (unnecessary if using egg substitute) then beat it into the batter along with the melted butter. Whisk the egg white until it forms soft peaks. Fold into the batter with a spatula.

Lightly spray the hot waffle iron with non stick spray, top and bottom plates, and then butter a piece of bread and use that to rub some butter on top and bottom plates.

Add just enough batter to cover the cooking surface…this varies by waffle iron…about 2/3 cup. Lower the top and cook until golden brown…it’s OK to check now and then. It takes about 2-3 minutes and it's usually when the steam starts to diminish. You want it golden brown, but not dark brown.

Serve hot, right away, with strawberries, whipped cream or maple syrup, or toppings of your choice.

Note; If you have too many waffles for the number of people you are feeding, bake the leftover batter a little less than the ones you are eating, let cool on a baking rack, then freeze and store in the freezer tightly wrapped. Re-heat in the toaster.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Happy 4th

Dear Reader,

No recipe today, just a hearty wish that you have a happy day. If you live in the USA, Happy 4th of July! Our Constitutional right to freedome of speech is one of the things that keeps the Inernet working and strong, including blogging. Here is a toast to that Bill of Rights and to blogging and bloggers everywhere! A toast, too, to the readers who keep it interesting.

I'm off to a friend's picnic. Maybe Sweetie and I will see some fireworks, too.

XO Elle