Sunday, November 30, 2008

Getting Ready For December

While we were in Seattle, I was reading an advice book written by various women. One wrote about a Weight Loss Soup that seemed very similar to the Weight Watchers One Point Soup that forms the basis for my basic go-to soup. Water or broth based soup can be a great aid for a weight loss program, one to promote good health, or one for comfort. A warm, steaming bowl of fragrant soup is so comforting on a cold December day. It can revive you after a stint in the stores finding that perfect, illusive gift. Best of all, it can be inexpensive and full of good nutrition AND be made ahead, so all you do is reheat it. A quick blast in the microwave and you have a bowl of goodness.

To start off with, you need a good sized pot. A little pot will be OK for a small batch, but then you have to do it all over again. Something that will hold between 8 and 12 cups of liquid is great. Just make sure it fits in your fridge. One with a lid is nice, too.

Next you'll need some ordinary yellow onions. Medium to large ones are great. Avoid ones with obvious mold or bruises. If you have room, get a half dozen. They keep for months in a cool, dark place and are essential in lots of great cold weather dishes.

To use in soup, peel off the papery skin, cut off the root end, cut in half. Use a sharp knife to cut through about 1/4 to 1/2 inch apart, then slice the same distance apart. This pretty much dices the onion. A few extra bits of chopping can dice any large pieces.
The illustration below shows how to do the first cuts. After that you just slice down perpendicular to those cuts.

Next you need some celery. Celery is an essential ingredient not only in many soups, but in my stuffing and in most Creole dishes, too. If you don't cook that way or snack on it (celery sticks with low fat peanut butter makes a quick snack), see if you can find a small (or half) version of a head of celery in the store.

To use in soup, wash a few ribs well, cut off the bottom where it attached to the head of celery, then run a knife down the middle of the rib. You can include the feathery leaves, well chopped, or's a matter of taste. Slice the celery about 1/4 inch thick all down the rib. Repeat for the other rib (or two if you like celery).

Garlic can be optional, but I find it a great addition to most soups. You can keep a head of garlic, which looks like a flower bulb with papery white skin, in your cupboard. If you are a "if I have to mince garlic I'll never make soup" kind of person, buy some minced garlic in a jar to keep on hand in the fridge.

To use in soup, if you have a head of garlic, pull off one or two of the cloves - more if you really like garlic - remove the skin, and mince. To remove the skin, lay the garlic clove on a cutting board and smash down with the flat of a large knife (like a chef's knife). This will loosen the skin, so you can peel it right off. To mince the peeled garlic clove, lay it flay and run the knife through it in rows. Keep the knife slashed pretty close together. Turn is a bit and slash againat a 45 degree angle. Then make thin sliced across those slashes to make little squares. If there are any odd large bits, cut them to fine chop.

Broth is the real basis of a good soup. The best is the kind you make yourself. You can simmer a chicken or other poultry and use the liquid you simmered it in as broth (although usually a trip through cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer is good to remove unwanted stuff once the simmmering is done), but I usually opt for ease by purchasing canned chicken broth. Plain water is also fine, but comes with no flavor, so you need to make sure to add plenty of flavor by carmelizing the veggies and adding enough herbs and spices.

Soup can take on lots of personalities, depending on what you include in the pot. Just like the kids story of Stone Soup, the character of the soup is improved by the addition of vegetables and legumes, herbs, spices, flavored oils, pieces of meat, fish, or poultry, pasta and/or tofu.

To start out, take you soup pot, add a few tablespoons of grapeseed oil, canola oil, olive oil, or butter. Grapeseed oil can be heated to a high heat level and not create carcinogens the way very hot olive oil can and it doesn't seem to burn like butter will. It's slower but, as an alternate to grapeseed oil, fine to use butter or the other oils and cook the first ingredients over a lower heat.

I like to saute' the onions, celery and garlic over medium-high heat for about 5 - 8 minutes, until the onion is slightly browned, especially on the edges, and transluscent. Often I'll put the onions in first, cook a couple of minutes, then add the celery and garlic, stir, then cook the rest of the way as slightly lower heat. If I'm using just water, I'll use olive oil, turn the heat to medium or medium-low, cook just the onions, stirring often, until they start to brown, then add the celery and garlic and cook another five minutes or so, still at the lower heat. This gets everything a nice medium brown color and that adds lots of flavor to the finished soup.

Once the onions, celery and garlic have cooked, add the broth or water - about 4 - 8 cups, depending on how much soup you want. Use a wooden spoon to scrape the browned bits from the sides and bottom of the pot...again for added flavor.

This is the basic soup base. From here you can go wild.

My usual veggie soup starts with the basic soup base, then I add a can of diced tomatoes in juice, or the equivalent in fresh, seeded and peeled tomatoes. I also add a cup of thinly sliced carrots, 5 or 6 red potatoes, cut in bite sized chunks, and a frozen boneless, skinless chicken breast. Cover the pot and turn low to simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove the chicken and keep simmering the soup until the potatoes are cooked. Add 1/4 cup chopped parsley, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, about 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning, salt to taste. Dice up the simmered chicken and put it back in the pot. Throw in some (about 1/2 cup to 1 cup each) green beans, peas, corn, and/or spinach. Some zucchini whihc has been sliced in half lengthwise, then sliced is a nice addition, too. Simmer a few minutes, then taste for seasoning.

This soup will keep for 3 -4 days in the fridge. Just reheat and enjoy. A grating of good Parmesan cheese over the top just before serving is a wonderful addition.

There are tons of variations. Here are a few variations:

Ministrone: Take the basic soup and add a can of diced tomatoes. Add at least a cup of pasta. Add a can of cannelli or white beans, some Italian seasonings, and at least a cup of chopped chard, plus some green beans ands some sliced zucchini squash. This one really needs the Parmesan cheese. You can even add a Parmesan cheese rind when you add the broth or water. Tiny meatballs can also be added or some cooked, sliced Italian sausage. Italian flat beans instead of regular green beans is a nice change, too. Be sure to simmer this one until the pasta is cooked.

Chicken Noodle: Take the basic soup, using chicken broth for the liquid. Add 1/2 pound of egg noodles, the thin kind are usual, but fatter will work, too. Add 1/2 cup chopped parsley, a cup or so of diced, cooked chicken, 1 teaspoon dried thyme. Heat until the noodles are cooked. Taste for salt and pepper. Sliced mushrooms can be added when you add the noodles for a different take on this classic soup.

Spinach Soup: Remove the long stems from a 10 oz bag of fresh baby spinach, or similar amount of large leaf spinach. If needed, wash thoroughly. Chop the spinach and add to the basic soup, along with 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. Cook briefly, about 4 minutes, just to cook the spinach quickly. Taste for salt and pepper. Process half of the soup at a time in a food processor, blender, or with a hand blender if you like a smoother soup. If you like a thicker soup, while the basic soup is cooking, in a separate pot, boil a couple large Idaho potatoes (russets) that you have cut into bite sized pieced. When potatoes are fork tender, drain, mash with potato masher or fork, then stir into the finished soup. Stir to mix. The mashed potatoes will thicken the Spinach Soup like a charm.

More variations will be coming later...imagine what you can do with rice, chicken and black beans; or with chilis, tomato, chicken and tortilla strips, etc.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Cake For Daring Bakers to Make

Sorry this post is so late, but we were flying back from Seattle and, as we entered the hallway to the plane, they said that instead of taking us to N. CA as scheduled, they might have to fly us to Redding due to foggy conditions! Luckily, about a half hour before we were scheduled to land they decided that the fog had cleared enough, so we flew toward home. Not the end of the story! I noticed that when we were pretty close to the airport (a small, regional one) that they kept flying in circles. Now we could see the airport and all the area fog to speak of and no other planes getting in the way. Around we went again...what on earth??? Finally, the third time around they shared that they couldn't be sure that the landing gear were engaged...the fly bys gave them visual that it all looked OK, but, just in case, there would be a firetruck ready when we landed. So now we felt safe....sure we did!....but around we went again, and landed. The good news was that everything worked work for the firemen. The bad news for the folks waiting to fly to LA was that their flight would be delayed...THREE hours, whiled they fixed our plane. Isn't it fun to fly! Course it beats two days in the car. And, yes, my daughter is wonderful and her guy is great and we ate too much and laughed and talked and had a great time. If you need a great place to stay in Wallingford and like staying in part of a house in a very quiet, pretty neighborhood for a reasonable rate, e-mail me and I'll give you the details...oh, and the bed is SUPER comfy.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming. Not as much drama, but very pretty.

This month the Daring Bakers baked a cake. It's a lovely caramel cake from Poulet in Berkeley, CA. The recipe is by Shuna Fish Lydon, who writes the excellent blog Eggbeaters. Shuna is a professional pastry chef, but this cake isn't like the Gateau St. Honore', or the fancy one with chocolate ganache and nut praline. It is simplicity itself, which is what makes it so difficult. The caramel syrup is the key, so be sure to not follow my lead. Make sure that you cook it enough to get a good deep amber color, for the flavor it gives. Also, be prepared for a fairly dense cake, (even if all ingredients are at room temperature and you beat the heck out of each ingredient and graaaaaaddduuuuallly add the milk, etc., although I goofed, so mine was probably a bit denser than it would be otherwise - see below) and one with super sweet icing. I liked the browned butter flavor with the caramel flavor in the icing, but it really was very sweet with all the confectioners sugar. This cake also tasted better when served at room temperature. I made the mistake of serving it straight from the fridge. It cut well, but the flavors were not as pronounced. The last piece I ate at room temp. and it was much better. I confess that there was a bit of mis-communication with my baking buddy Hil when it was time to add the flour. More than 1/3 was added at the beginning of the wet-dry-wet-dry cycle, so the cycle was shortened a bit. Otherwise we followed the recipe to the letter! The batter sure looked light!

For fun and a seasonal kick, I also sliced my cake in half

and filled it with a Granny Smith apple filling. Threw on some toasted walnuts, too.

Glad I did because those additional flavors were very complementary to the caramel and added some texture. Did not try the candies that were the extra challenge...there was barely time to do the challenge...where DID November go?
Thanks go to Alex, the Brownie of Blondie and Brownie duo and Jenny of Foray into Food, to Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go for all the gluten-free instructions and especially to Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity(for choosing this recipe) who all hosted this challenge. Great choice for November y'all!! It sure made for a pretty cake and it was appreciated by the guests at our pre-Thanksgiving feast last Sunday.

by Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeaters blog

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Notes from Natalie for those of you baking gluten-free:

So the GF changes to the cake would be:

2 cups of gluten free flour blend (w/xanthan gum) or 2 cups of gf flour blend + 1 1/2 tsp xanthan or guar gum
1/2 - 1 tsp baking powder (this would be the recipe amount to the amount it might need to be raised to & I'm going to check)

I'll let you when I get the cake finished, how it turns out and if the baking powder amount needs to be raised.

Preheat oven to 350F

Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.


2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)
In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.


12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.
To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light

(recipes above courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon)

- makes eighty-one 1-inch caramels -

1 cup golden syrup
2 cups sugar
3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons pure ground vanilla beans, purchased or ground in a coffee or spice grinders, or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened

A 9-inch square baking pan
Candy thermometer


Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with aluminum foil and grease the foil. Combine the golden syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges. Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes. (Meanwhile, rinse the spatula or spoon before using it again later.) Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered (without stirring) until the mixture reaches 305°F. Meanwhile, combine the cream and ground vanilla beans (not the extract) in a small saucepan and heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot.

When the sugar mixture reaches 305°F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks. Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful. Turn the burner back on and adjust it so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F. Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260°f for soft, chewy caramels or 265°F; for firmer chewy caramels.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, if using it. Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Let set for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight until firm.

Lift the pan liner from the pan and invert the sheet of caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the liner. Cut the caramels with an oiled knife. Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.


Fleur de Sel Caramels: Extra salt, in the form of fleur de sel or another coarse flaked salt, brings out the flavor of the caramel and offers a little ying to the yang. Add an extra scant 1/4 teaspoon of coarse sea salt to the recipe. Or, to keep the salt crunchy, let the caramel cool and firm. Then sprinkle with two pinches of flaky salt and press it in. Invert, remove the pan liner, sprinkle with more salt. Then cut and wrap the caramels in wax paper or cellophane.

Nutmeg and Vanilla Bean Caramels: Add 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg to the cream before you heat it.

Cardamom Caramels: Omit the vanilla. Add 1/2 teaspoon slightly crushed cardamom seeds (from about 15 cardamom pods) to the cream before heating it. Strain the cream when you add it to the caramel; discard the seeds.

Caramel Sauce: Stop cooking any caramel recipe or variation when it reaches 225°F or, for a sauce that thickens like hot fudge over ice cream, 228°F. Pour it into a sauceboat to serve or into a heatproof jar for storage. The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for ages and reheated gently in the microwave or a saucepan just until hot and flowing before use. You can stir in rum or brandy to taste. If the sauce is too thick or stiff to serve over ice cream, it can always be thinned with a little water or cream. Or, if you like a sauce that thickens more over ice cream, simmer it for a few minutes longer.
(recipe from Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Seeded Sourdough

Having ‘gone down the rabbit hole’ of wild yeast breads, as Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups so nicely put it, I’m going enthusiastically into bread making with my starters. This week I made a seeded sourdough sandwich loaf using the whole wheat starter, Polly. It turned out quite well, although next time I plan to knead in even more seeds. It was really delicious!

I'll post the recipe later...have to go pack. Heading off to be with our daughter and her beau. When next there is a post here, it will be the November Daring Baker challenge, but it's likely to be late in the day on posting day, so go check out other DBs on the blogroll...see the side bar for a link.

Have a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving and harvest time!

Sunday, November 23, 2008


It's not even Turkey Day, but I'm stuffed anyway. Since we will be joining my daughter and her beau for Thanksgiving this year, we celebrated a little early with Grandma L and our Sunday breakfast buddies by skipping breakfast and having turkey with all the trimmings for dinner Sunday instead.

Welcome to my table, set with seasonal colors and a big basket of fresh fruit. There was also wine, but we were drinking it with 'horses ovaries' as grandma calls appetizers. Later the whole table was covered in dishes and plates and bowls...there was enough food to feed three times as many guests as were at the table.

The turkey was over 21 pounds, big enough to enjoy and still have plenty to send home with our guests, plus for sandwiches for the next couple of days. I especially enjoy grilled turkey sandwiches for lunch.

The hit of the feast was probably the stuffing, as always. You may want to 'borrow' this recipe for your own feast. It is also good with chicken and with pork, so keep it handy. For pork I usually don't use poultry seasonings, just about a teaspoon of sage instead. It's a simple cornbread and bread stuffing with sauteed onions and celery, some herbs and spices, some apples and pecans. Everyone asks for seconds, so you know it's good.

This year I'm grateful for my health, for my Mom still being in great health and spirits, for my sister and nephew in particular, but for all my family being alive and kicking, for so many, many friends and for all they have meant to me this year, for the continued joy of blogging and those I've 'met' through blogging, for the luck of being in a meaningful job and having a good boss. Most of all I'm grateful for the abiding love of my husband and daughter, dog Xam and cat Merlin. Relationships are far more important than anything else as far as I'm concerned. In that respect I'm truly blessed.

Wishing you and those you love and who love you a happy Turkey Day and/or harvest season. Now go on, treat yourself, get stuffed with some stuffing!

(Elle's note: My Mom still makes the best stuffing in the world and she changes it a little each time. This is the stuffing I grew up with, changed slightly...less parsley, more fresh herbs...but basically the same. The smell brings back happy memories. Thanks Mom!)


Based on Mom's recipe in Family Food, June 1994

1/2 cup butter, melted
1-2 onions, finely chopped
1 - 1 1/2 cups diced celery...include some leaves if you like
3/4 cup minced parsley
1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
1 -8 inch square pan of cornbread (about 1/2 regular recipe)
1/2 loaf or so of stale multi grain bread - if not stale, dry out a bit in a low oven
1 medium apple, diced, skin left on
about 3/4 cup chopped pecans
1 can chicken broth, or equivalent (about 2 cups) home made chicken broth

Combine butter with onions and celery and saute' on medium high heat until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add parsley, salt, pepper, poultry seasoning and rosemary and stir to combine.

In very large mixing bowl or large pot, combine the cornbread, crumbled in large chunks, the bread, cut or crumbled in large chunks, the vegetable mixture, the apples and the pecans.

Stir well so that all ingredients are distributed evenly.

Stir in the broth quickly to moisten the ingredients. Immediately spoon into turkey cavities, keeping stuffing fairly loose and not packing it. Remaining stuffing can be put into a greased, oven-proof casserole, covered, and refrigerated. Finish off turkey and bake as you desire. About an hour before turkey is done, remove casserole from the refrigerator, seal the top with foil, and bake for 1/2 an hour along with the turkey. Uncover and continue to bake about another 1/2 hour, until top is crisp and golden.

Makes enough to serve at least 8 people. Wonderful with turkey gravy!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Happy Times with Polly and Some Nuts

I apologise in advance if this makes you want to eat breakfast again or run out to Cinnabon. DO try this at's great fun to play with dough.

When last we left Polly, our intrepid whole wheat sourdough starter, she was just getting used to being fed with only whole wheat flour. A few days later she was ready to play, so I made some sweet rolls, using the recipe from Breadchick at The Sour Dough. She gave me the idea of making Polly in the first place, so it was fun to try the whole wheat sourdough starter out with her sweet roll recipe. I did use the nut filling from her regular sweet roll recipe because I just love nuts with sweet rolls.

Since the only Daring Baker challenge I've missed was the one where sweet rolls were made, some of this was new territory for me. This was my first time using dental floss the divide the log of filled dough into the rolls. Sorry, no photo of fingers were way too sticky!

The few times that I've made sweet rolls I've had less filling or something because this time it was a real challenge to roll the dough around the filling. Maybe I didn't roll the dough out enough...not sure, but it really didn't matter. The rolls were lovely and Sweetie quite enjoyed them, especially the second pan I baked where I baked them for a shorter time. I think next time I would add some cardamom to offset the natural sweetness of the dough, and maybe a touch of cloves, too.

For the icing I mixed together some hot milk and confectioners sugar for the first batch. For the second batch I added to that some cinnamon and a splash of rum. Both were great, but I liked the rum/cinnamon version best.

Breadchick's Whole Wheat Sourdough Sweet Rolls
Prep Time: 2 Days

This recipe results in 15 - 20 good sized rolls or 30 - 40 small rolls with a tangy sweet taste. You can top them with any type of frosting.

For Dough:
1 Cup whole wheat sourdough starter
3/4 Cup sugar
1/2 Cup vegetable oil
2 1/2 Tsp. salt
1 1/2 Cup warm water (80 - 85 Degrees)
1 1/2 Cup bread flour
5 to 6 1/2 Cup whole wheat flour (depending on stiffness of batter, hold back 1/4 cup)

For Filling:
1 Cup Sugar
4 tbsp. Cinnamon (or to taste)
2 tsp Cardamom (0ptional)
1/4 Cup water (to brush on rolled out dough)

Caramel Pecan Rolls Filling:

1 - 1 1/2 C Pecans (lightly toasted and chopped coarsely)
1/2 C. Light Brown Sugar (packed)
1/2 C. Sugar
4 tbsp Cinnamon (or to taste)
1/4 tsp Salt (optional or to taste)
1/4 C. Melted Butter(to brush on rolled out dough)

Making The Sponge: Combine the starter, the water and one half the flour (without 1/2 Cup held back in reserve) in a large glass or plastic bowl. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for at least 3 hours or until almost tripled.

Making The Sweet Dough: Mix the sugar and salt together in small bowl. Stir down the sponge and add the oil and 1/2 the sugar/salt mixture to the sponge. Stir well until all the oil is almost absorbed by the dough. Add 2 cups of the flour and mix well until the dough is smooth. Add the rest of the sugar/salt mixture and all the bread flour and one cup of the whole wheat flour and mix well until combined fully. You may need to switch to hand mixing here if your dough is starting stiffen or if your standing mixer is starting to strain, switch to the dough attachment.

Add remaining flour (without 1/4 Cup held back in reserve). At this point you may find you have to use your hands to combine this flour. Dough should feel sticky but stiff. If the dough feels too loose or wet, add the 1/2 Cup of flour you held back held back slowly until dough feels right. (Depending on the dough, you may need to add more flour). Mix well by hand until dough is smooth and elastic. Dough will still be slightly sticky. Resist the temptation to add more flour as this will result in tough rolls.

Place dough in a very large buttered glass or plastic bowl. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise for 8 - 12 hours or until at least doubled or almost tripled.

Form The Rolls: Divide the dough into 2 halves and cover the half not being worked with plastic wrap and return to bowl. Turn the half of dough you are working with onto a floured surface for rolling and form into rough rectangle. Begin rolling dough out to form 15" x 6" rectangle that is about 1/2" thick. If dough springs back as your rolling use your hand to press into rectangle and roll out slowly. You will depress air pockets out of dough and the dough will be slightly resistant to rolling.

You may also have to let dough "rest" and relax between some rolls for a minute or two. Be patient, dough will relax. Also, be careful to not overwork the dough or add too much flour as you are rolling.

When you have dough rolled out, brush dough with water; not too much or the sweet roll will "fall apart" during last rise. Just enough for filling to cling to dough. Generously sprinkle the filling from one long edge to the other, leaving about 1/4" of one long edge free of filling. Roll the dough slowly to form a long "roll". Pay attention to keeping "ends" of the roll as even as possible, working the ends to be even is necessary until all that is left to roll is the 1/4" long edge border without filling. Brush water or an egg white wash on this 1/4" and seal the roll; gently pinching the roll to seal if necessary.

Using dental floss, cut the long roll into 1 1/2" - 2" sections and place in well buttered 13" x 9" glass baking dish.

Repeat method with remaining dough. (You may need to also use a second baking dish)

Cover baking dish with plastic wrap and let rise 8 - 12 hours or until rolls are almost doubled.

Baking: Bake Rolls at 350 Degrees for 45 minutes or until internal temperature of roll is 190 degrees. Let completely cool (1 to 2 hours) and frost.

Don't try and halve this recipe. If it makes too many rolls for you, just bake them and freeze them without frosting them. When you want a roll, take a few out of the freezer, let them come to room temperature, pop them in the microwave for a 20 seconds and then frost them.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Playing with Sourdough and Making Pancakes

Never thought of making a sourdough starter and learning to use it as a way to ward off dementia. Then I talked with my mom yesterday. She reminded me that learning new things and exercising the mind are good practices in keeping Alzheimer's at bay. Guess the whole process has been a true learning experience.

'Pancakes for breakfast' has always been a happy phrase. Now that my starter is there, just waiting to be used, it takes on a whole new meaning. For one thing, you need to start your batter the night before (or at least 3 hours before you cook the pancakes). Even though my brain was tired, I did remember to start the batter.

What I forgot the next day when I was mixing the rest of the ingredients in was that I also added a half cup of Polly so that I wouldn't have to throw it away when I was feeding her some more whole wheat flour. So in the morning I followed the directions as given on my recipe, but ended up with a very thin batter which made pancakes that looked like crepes! Seeing that, I whisked in a whole bunch more bread flour and tried again. This time the pancakes were just right...thick enough but not too thick. It wasn't until later that I remembered the extra starter and understood why I needed more flour...about a make the batter right. So playing with is the right term to use with sourdough when you are as forgetful as I am sometimes.

I served the pancakes with some butter, maple syrup, simmered apple slices with cinnamon, and a couple of pan browned frozen turkey breakfast sausages. The pancakes were light and flavorful and well worth the effort of starting the batter early.

Since these are made with a starter that has wild yeast in it, I'm going to send this off to Susan at Wild Yeast for the weekly Yeastspotting roundup. With two starters going, she will probably be getting one or more posts a week.

This sure is fun!

Sourdough Pancakes
(Not sure where this recipe came was in a stack of recipes I'd printed out a while back. Very sorry I can't tell you whose recipe it is.)

1 cup sourdough starter - I used Sukey which is a thinner type of starter, plus 1/2 cup of Polly, also a thinner type of starter, just more whole wheat in it
2 cups water at room temperature
2 1/2 cups whole grain flour - I used 2 cups whole wheat and 1/2 cup spelt flour (then about 1 cup unbleached bread flour when the batter was too thin the next day)
3 large eggs
4 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup melted butter, cooled
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

3 to 24 hours before you want to eat, combine in a large bowl the starter, water, and flour.Make sure that you have plenty of room for this mixture to rise. If it is a very hot day, beware of leaving it too will ferment very quickly. To make for breakfast, make this part the night before. The sponge should soak for at least 3 hours.

After the soaking period, add the rest of the ingredients, and combine well. A whisk works well. If you want thinner pancakes you can thin with water or milk. Drop about 1/4 cup of the batter on lightly oiled hot griddle over medium to medium-high heat. Cook until the top is set and the bottom lightly browned. Flip when small air bubbled form around the edges. Cook the other side until pancake lightly browned on the griddle side. Repeat until all of the batter is used, re-oiling the pan as needed. This makes a lot of pancakes...enough for 4 - 6 hearty appetites.

Server warm with maple syrup, butter, fruit toppings and/or whipped cream.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Sukey, Polly and the Rainbow Whisk

You know how a new pet sort of takes over your life for a while? Regular feedings, lots of attention, new behaviors to get used to...that sort of thing. Well a month ago I began a simple Sourdough Starter using some grapes from my own vines and unbleached bread flour. It took a couple of weeks of daily feedings and care to become a good pet, well behaved and of fine, if mild, flavor. That starter is now called Sukey. Maybe over time she will become a friend.

Thanks to a delightful recipe on Saturday, Oct. 8th from Breadchick at The Sour Dough, which nudged me into beginning a whole wheat sourdough starter, I'm now well on the way to having another pet, Polly.

Surely at some point you have read the nursery rhyme:

Polly put the kettle on, Polly put the kettle on, Polly put the kettle on,

We'll all have tea!

Sukey take it off again, Sukey take it off again, Sukey take it off again,

It's all gone away.

Since it seems that Sukey's lot is to have part of her taken away on a regular basis to either make a sourdough recipe using some of her, or so that she can help in the creation of other starters like Polly, it seemed like a fine name. And we will put the kettle on for sure and have tea once I've made those Whole Wheat Sweet Rolls with the help of Polly in a day or two, once she has reached her strength as a whole wheat starter. The story and photos and recipe will be coming to this blog soon :)

The rainbow whisk? Well that is my treat to myself because I'm finding that I use a whisk a lot these days feeding the various starters and recipes using the starters. My old whisk was a wimpy one and the rainbow one is not only cheerful, but it washes up easily since the wires are covered in multi colored plastic coating. Woot!

I'm planning on making Sourdough Pancakes Sunday morning, so I have a bowl of that mixture going, too. Now I just have to make sure I keep them straight...they all look similar. Photos of the pancakes once they are done should be more interesting than the ones of the starters :)

Tropical Bannana Bread

Take one plain, uninspired, but solid recipe for banana bread, substitute some molasses for some of the sugar (while thinking of how the molasses / sugar trade was one leg of a terrible triangle in the early years of our country...the other legs being rum and slaves, or so I've been told). Bananas and vanilla are certainly tropical enough, but let's add some dates (thinking of desert palms and midnight at the oasis). Pecans grow in the south, not necessarily tropical, but warm, anyway. Let's throw some in, along with coconut (think Hawaii and Pohnepei where Sweetie spent time while in the Peace Corps, and island breezes). Now we have a tropical banana bread that is sure to please my Sweetie.

The fragrance that fills the house as it cooks is alluring. It was so hard to wait a bit after it came out of the oven to let it cool...well at least a little...although it was still warm.

What a mouthful! The flavors of coconut and banana are followed by the date and pecan and molasses goodness. It is flavorful from the whole wheat flour I used, super moist and hard to resist.

The next day, chilled and sliced thin, spread with cream cheese and cut into fingers, it's also an elegant accompaniment to a nice cup of hot tea. This might be the best banana bread I've ever made. Next time I might make some rum flavored syrup to pour over while it's hot. That would be perfection.

Tropical Banana Bread

based on my mom's banana bread in Family Food, June 1994
makes one loaf

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup molasses, dark is best
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, beaten
3 ripe bananas (or 2 large), mashed
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup chopped pitted dates
1/2 cup shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan.

Beat butter, molasses and sugar together until fluffy. It's OK if it looks curdled.

Add eggs and banana pulp and beat well.

Add sifted dry ingredient's, vanilla, and buttermilk. Mix just until dry ingredients are incorporated. Stir in nuts, dates, and coconut.

Pour into prepared loaf pan. Bake about 1 hour. Test for doneness with a toothpick in center. When done, toothpick comes out clean or with a few crumbs on it. Cool well. Store overnight before cutting...if you can wait that long. A serrated knife makes cutting easier.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

In the Mood for Black Beans

It is a rare day when I'm in the mood for black beans as part of Southwest flavored food. It isn't that I don't enjoy chili and burritos and the occasional tamale or taco salad, but most of the time the appeal isn't there. Then, for no apparent reason, a day today...when I want to make something with southwest flavors.

The casserole that resulted from that rare yen can easily be a vegetarian entree. If you make the sauce with unsweetened soy milk, it can be vegan. Since I'm absolutely not a hot pepper lover, my version has mild green poblano peppers, but you can add as much heat as you like. I used a little cayenne pepper for just a touch of heat, but most people would want more. Other additions that would go well are things like cumin, black olives, hot pepper sauce, etc.

The basic casserole starts with fresh onions, red peppers, and celery, sauteed in some oil or butter. Since this oil blends with the flour that later thickens the sauce, don't leave it out. Olive oil, grapeseed oil, margarine and butter all work. The vegetables are super easy if you have access to a frozen mixture that combines corn, black beans, mild green chilies and red (or red and green) bell peppers. I like using the frozen mix because then I really can make this when the mood strikes. Even better would be fresh corn, freshly cooked black beans, fresh chilies and more fresh bell peppers. In a pinch you could just use the frozen mix and make the sauce without any additional vegetables, but you would lose the crunch of the fresh veggies, as well as some of their flavor.

Since Sweetie is a 'meat and potatoes' kinda guy, I also sauteed two boneless, skinless chicken breasts and then cut them into bite sized pieces, which I mixed in after the frozen mixture was added to the sauce. Since he went back for a second helping, I think he found that pleasing. You could also use turkey, so this might be a good recipe to keep in mind for November 28th!

For a topping I scattered sliced green onions (scallions), including some of the tops, followed by a layer of about a cup of shredded cheddar cheese. It all bakes until bubbly and the cheese turns golden brown and crusty.

Served with a mixed green salad, this is a fine cool weather meal.

Southwest Skillet Bake
Serves 4 - 6

1 medium onion, chopped
3 ribs celery, sliced
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and cored, chopped
4 tablespoons oil (butter, margarine, olive, grapeseed, vegetable)
4 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Optional: hot pepper sauce, cumin
12 oz evaporated milk (I used non fat) or unsweetened soy milk
14 - 16 oz. mixed frozen vegetables that contains corn, black beans, red bell pepper, and green chilies
OR fresh or canned vegetable equivalent

Optional: hot peppers, sliced black olives

Optional: 1 cup or so cooked chicken or turkey, cut into bite sized pieces

2-3 green onions sliced, including some of the green tops
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a skillet, heat the oil and then saute' the onion, red pepper and celery in it for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.

To the sauteed vegetables, add the flour and cayenne and black pepper (and cumin if you are adding it). Stir to completely coat the flour with the oil in the vegetables and cook over medium heat on minute, stirring occasionally to cook the flour.

Add the milk or soymilk all at once, stirring constantly. Continue to stir and cook the mixture until it thickens. Remove from heat.

Stir in the mixed vegetables, the pepper and/or black olives if using, the chicken if using. Stir until well mixed, then smooth the top of the mixture.

Sprinkle the green onions evenly over the mixture. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over that.

Bake in preheat oven for 20 minutes, or until cheese is melted and golden brown and mixture is bubbling.

Serve hot.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

English Muffins Sort Of

In my ongoing quest for great sourdough recipes I tried taking a regular yeast version of English Muffins and made them with some yeast and some sourdough starter. The results were delicious. They tasted like sourdough English Muffins, and much better than anything we have bought from a store, but I was disappointed with the texture.

Inside they were more like dinner rolls than like the English Muffins that have lots of holes to hold the melted butter.

I also discovered that the directions were not complete. I should have made them much flatter and wider because they puffed up quite a bit and became rather tall, small diameter muffins. The good news is that I have lots of starter and can try again.
I suspect that I'll need to add more liquid, made the discs flatter and wider and maybe even add a little baking soda. When I have a good recipe, I'll post it.

In the meantime, at least you can see some photos of the little darlings.

those are the lumps of dough to be shaped and below are the discs rising before being grilled.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Glad That's Over - Let's Have Comfort Food

No more political ads....or phone calls...or talking heads...and we can still watch Saturday Night Live if we want to.

Fall has truly arrived. With the change away from daylight savings time it now is nicely dark by dinner time. The rains are here at last and Sweetie has the wood stove going to ward off the chill. This kind of seasonal feeling makes me long for slow cooked savory foods like stews and soups. Tonight I made a slow cooked braised chicken dish base loosely on my Mom's recipe for Beef I guess I could call it Chicken Stroganoff. Mushrooms, onions and sour cream (non-fat in my case) are the key flavor components. If you use a non-stick skillet and skinless chicken, it is a fairly healthy dish. The nice thing is that you get the bonus of a nice sauce which can be spooned over pasta as a side dish. Add some green veggies or a salad and you are set with a savory dish of comfort food...perfect for a fall evening.

Chicken Stroganoff
based on Beef Stroganoff in Family Food, 1994 - serves 4

1 medium onion, peeled, cut in half, and sliced thinly
1/2 lb mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 chicken thighs or chicken breasts or a combination
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 can chicken broth
2 tablespoons brandy
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 cup sour cream (non-fat is O.K.)

Saute the onions and mushrooms in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Set aside. Wipe out the pan with a paper towel.

Saute the chicken in the other tablespoon of the olive oil. Set aside.

Add the butter and let melt. Add the flour, salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce, stir and cook over medium heat for a minute. Add the chicken broth and whisk to combine. Add the brandy, stir and let the sauce cook over medium heat until thickened.

Add the onion-mushroom mixture to the sauce. Stir to combine. Top with the chicken, flip the chicken pieces to coat with the sauce. Sprinkle the chicken pieces with the thyme. Cover and cook over low heat for 1 hour (1/2 hour if using chicken breasts). Remove from heat and stir in the sour cream, stirring to combine with the sauce.

Serve the chicken with some sauce poured over the top of each portion. The rest of the sauce goes well with rice or pasta/noodles.

Monday, November 03, 2008

GO VOTE (if you live in USA) then have some Sourdough Herb Bread

If you are registered to vote in the U.S.A., do'll kick yourself later if you miss out on participating in this historic presidential election. I'm not going to suggest how you cast your ballot, just DO IT!

The great thing about having a sourdough starter in the fridge is that it inspires you to bake bread.

One day after a long meeting last week I stopped in at Willie Bird Turkey outlet mid-afternoon and who should I meet but Grandma L! She had gotten off work early and was very tired from catering a wedding over the weekend for 60 people. I immediately invited her for dinner and soon, while driving home, figured out that I had just enough time to bake a loaf of bread. She loves bread and so does Sweetie. He even has leftovers toasted the next morning for breakfast (with quince jam, a flavor combination that didn't sound so great to me, but he loved it.)

A nice loaf of her bread seemed just right It's perfect for a chilly night and we are finally getting true Fall weather. It would go well with baked chicken with onions and a nice salad.

This bread was based on the recipe for Fresh Herb Twist in Local Breads by Daniel Leader. I used it mostly for amount of herbs and for proportions because I didn't make a twist and, since my starter had already fermented and I had limited time, I only did one rise, having shaped the bread right after kneading it.

The fragrances of fresh bread and savory herbs, plus Italian cheeses was outstanding. We had a hard time letting the bread cool enough before we sliced it. The sourdough flavor was mild, probably due to the single rise and the fact that the sourdough starter was still a bit cool when I mixed everything together. The crust was not too thick, but was crisp and delightful. Grandma L was thrilled to pieces. Sweetie had to stop himself at three slices, so I know he enjoyed it, too.

Herbed Sourdough Bread
makes one loaf

1 cup sourdough starter at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast (I used RapidRise)
1/4 cup tepid water
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon each dried basil, oregano, thyme, and crumbled dried rosemary
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
about 3 cups all-purpose flour

Put the sourdough starter in a large mixing bowl. If using a stand mixer, attach the paddle.

In a small bowl, combine the yeast and the tepid water and sugar. Stir. Let sit for 5 minutes to make sure yeast is active. Active yeast will smell very yeasty and clumps of bubbly yeast will rise to the surface of the water.

After it has proofed, add the yeast mixture to the bowl containing the sourdough starter. Mix in the herbs, olive oil and salt. Add a cup of the flour and mix until combined.

Switch to the dough hook (or continue mixing with a wooden spoon), adding flour a 1/2 cup at a time and mixing until incorporated. If using a stand mixer, keep adding flour until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl. Continue to knead using the dough hook another 6 - 8 minutes until dough is satiny. If stirring by hand, stir flour into dough until it is too hard to stir, then turn dough out onto a well-floured board or clean, well-floured counter and knead the rest of the flour into the dough. Amount of flour will vary. Keep kneading until dough is satiny and supple.

Once you have finished kneading dough, press down on it to shape into a rectangle about 8 by 12 inches. (Optional: sprinkle dough with about 3/4 cup of mixed Italian shredded cheeses).

Roll up dough along the long side, fold the ends under, pinch to seal, and put into a greased loaf pan.

Cover with a damp kitchen tea towel and put in a warm place to rise.

When risen to double in bulk, place in preheated 400 degree F oven to bake for about 20 - 25 minutes. Finished loaf is golden and sounds hollow when bottom is tapped. Let cool on rack until barely warm. Slice and serve. Enjoy the aromas of herbs and fresh bread.