Monday, February 28, 2011

French Sourdough and the Greenthumb Girl

I'm fortunate in my friends. I bet you can say the same dear reader, if you think about it. There are all kinds of friends and if you are lucky, at least one of them will give you a great bread recipe.

One of my friends has a phenomenal green thumb. Her gardens are always beautiful. The plants are happy ones and the colors she uses and shapes go so well together that it is a joy to visit her home and see the gardens. Since I like to use nicknames on the blog instead of true names, she deserves the name Greenthumb Girl.

Greenthumb Girl is also a sweetie and she lent me a favorite recipe of hers for French Bread. Being almost always unable to stay to a recipe as written I don't think that she will mind that I used her recipe to make Sourdough French Bread.

The nice thing about French Bread is its simplicity. Yeast, water, salt and flour are the basic building blocks. This recipe adds a little bit of sugar because yeast really does like a little sugar almost as much as I do. There is also a tiny bit of oil. I ended up using olive oil because it was at hand. It's a mild one so it didn't add much flavor. In fact the sourdough flavor was pretty mild, too, but it still is a wonderful bread.

As you can see from the photos it has a nice combination of tight crumb and holes. It is moist and the crust is thin but crunchy. Grandma L got a small loaf while it was still warm and she had trouble stopping after a few slices it's so tasty. Makes great toast, too!

Our long loaf is gone but we still have the boule. I baked it longer so the crust is darker. All in all its a great bread and I'm so glad Greenthumb Girl let me have her recipe. I'm including her recipe first and my variation second so you can make either one.

Sending this over to Susan at Wild Yeast for her weekly Yeastspotting event, the most wonderful weekly collection of yeasted recipes you can imagine. Hit the link HERE and check it out!

Greenthumb Girl's French Bread

1 pkg yeast
1 1/4 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon shortening oil
1 1/2 cup warm water
1 teaspoon salt
4 or more cups flour

Punch down every 10 minutes...5 times. Let rise 10 minutes. Score before baking. Bake at 400 degrees F for 30-40 minutes.

Makes 2 loaves

Drawing on the recipe card shows two long loaves with scoring like done on baguettes.

Elle's Sourdough Version

Take 1 cup sourdough starter. To it add a mixture of 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1 cup water and 1 tablespoon honey or sugar. Mix to combine and let sit on counter 2 hours, uncovered. Then add a mixture of 1/2 cup all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup water. Mix to combine, cover loosely with plastic wrap and store in fridge overnight.

Warm the mixture by letting it sit on the counter for an hour. Place sourdough mixture in bowl of an electric stand mixer. Attach the dough hook.

To the starter in the bowl add 1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil and 1/2 cup barely warm water. Mix to combine.

In another bowl combine 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 5 cups bread flour. Gradually add the flour mixture to the mixture in the bowl until a soft dough forms. Continue adding just enough flour (it may take 6 cups or more) so that dough can knead in the bowl and that it cleans the sides of the bowl. Knead for 10 minutes this way.

Turn kneaded dough into a very large bowl that has been lightly oiled, or into a raising bucket prepared the same way. Turn dough over to coat with oil. Place oiled plastic wrap loosely on top of the dough, cover with a tea towel and let rise for 1 hour. Pull dough over itself in the bowl or bucket, cover again and let rise another 30 minutes. Repeat the dough pulling and rising twice more. (I allowed much longer rising times because often my sourdough starter takes longer.)

Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and knead a few minutes to release trapped gas. Divide dough and shape into loaves (I made two long loaves and one large (1/2 of the dough) round boule.

Cover shaped dough, which has been placed on parchment for baking, with oiled plastic wrap and tea towel(s) and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Once doubled, remove wraps, brush with a beaten egg, and score tops.

Bake in preheated 425 degree oven until golden brown and loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom...about 30 minutes for the long loaves, 45 minutes for the boule. I added some ice cubes to a pie pan on the bottom of the oven after I put the loaves in...for some steam...and it did make for a nice crust.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

No Snow but Jam Tarts are Fine

Well, it snowed high up on the nearby hills Friday night but not here. It's been plenty cold; well below 24 degrees F the last two nights. Fun to see the car windows all frosted up and ice in the galvanized tub. Sweetie even covered up my geraniums to protect them from the frost.

These sweet little jam tarts are something I baked for the abortive Valentine's tea party. I was going to freeze them but they ended up in the back of the fridge and were forgotton. I used teh recipe for Bakewell Tarts that the Daring Bakers used a while back.

Yesterday Sweetie put another couple of sheets of plywood on his storage shed and I fixed him some hot tea in the afternoon to warm him up some. Found the jam tarts, too, so I warmed them slightly in the microwave while the water was coming to the boil for the tea. Due to the jam, they stayed amazingly moist and the freshening in the microwave worked really well...they were almost as good as fresh baked.

The recipe is for a full tart size...8 or 9 inches size...but I made them in two sizes. Four tarts were made in my two inch tart pans and the rest were made in my mini-muffin pans. We decided we liked the mini-muffin ones best although the larger ones were probably prettier.

You can use any jam you like. I had some good quality seedless raspberry jam from Kozlowski's Farms on hand so that's what I used. The almond flavors are dominant here, so use a jam that you'll like with almond flavors.

If you are going to use tart pans bigger than the mini-muffin size, you may want to roll out the tart dough for even depth. I just pushed a piece of the dough in the bottom of each cup for the mini-mufffin ones so that some of the dough came a bit up the sides to cradle the jam.

These really are a great treat with tea or coffee...just the thing for this time of year, snow or no.

Bakewell Tarts
by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict

Makes one 23cm (9” tart)
Prep time: less than 10 minutes (plus time for the individual elements)
Resting time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes
Equipment needed: 23cm (9”) tart pan or pie tin (preferably with ridged edges), rolling pin

One quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (recipe follows)
Bench flour
250ml (1cup (8 US fl. oz)) jam or curd, warmed for spreadability
One quantity frangipane (recipe follows)
One handful blanched, flaked almonds

Assembling the tart
Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.

The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.

Elle's notes: To make smaller tarts or mini-tartlettes, roll out the pastry and use small cutters so that pastry bottom will fit your pans and come up the sides a bit to encase the jam. For really small pans you can just push a knob of pastry dough (about 1-2 teaspoons) into the bottom so that some comes up the sides a bit. Divide the jam among the tartletts and do the same for the filling. I found that putting the sliced almond piece(s) onto the filling before baking worked best.

Sweet shortcrust pastry
Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Resting time: 30 minutes (minimum)
Equipment needed: bowls, box grater, cling film

225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 (2) egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes

Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Equipment needed: bowls, hand mixer, rubber spatula

125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 (3) eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. In the words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Cozy Casserole for a Chilly Evening

We may get snow!

I know this is not something to get excited about in most of the United States, but we so rarely get snow that I'm kinda hoping that some sticks and stays, at least for a few hours. It won't happen until Friday night or Saturday and might not happen at all, but it gives you some idea of the nice chilly (for No. CA) weather we are having.

Sweetie has the fire going to heat the house...well only the living room actually, the bedrooms and bathroom are frigid...and I baked a nice rice gratin for our dinner using winter squash I grew myself. How fun is that?

There is always something yummy cooking at Katie's blog. Last night when I stopped by to see what she was up to I saw that she had posted a wonderful dish with butternut squash, leeks and rice. It looked great and sounded even better. I was pretty sure I had most of the ingredients on hand so I made it for dinner tonight.

Probably doesn't sound that earthshattering, but I so often bookmark or save recipes from other blogs and so rarely actually make them. This one was a must-make! And here you thought I only get buzzed about baked sweets and bread.

I used the smaller of the two butternut squash left from the ones I grew in my garden this summer. The great thing about winter squash is that they keep so well. This one was still moist inside and sweet, too. The skin was thin and peeled off easily and there weren't very many seeds, so there was lots of usable squash. It's likely that I had more squash than the recipe called for but it turned out just fine!

I was missing leeks, so used a cup of chopped onion instead. Since thyme was a dominant herb in the recipe I couldn't resist adding a cup of chopped mushrooms...I love the way mushrooms and thyme just go so well together.

I already had left over cooked rice so that made the dish come together faster. A couple of strips of bacon from the freezer went in the pan first with a lid on to sweat some of the bacon fat out. That meant I didn't need to add much olive oil when it came time to saute' the onions, mushrooms and butternut squash. The only other change I made was that I added an egg at the end when I mixed in the yogurt and Parmesan cheese. It was meant to help the gratin hold together when served and that worked very well.

Do try this dish. The flavors go so well together, it is filling without being heavy, and it tastes wonderful! Next time I'm going to make it with brown rice and I bet it will be even better!

Butternut Squash, Mushroom and Rice Gratin
adapted from Thyme for Cooking by Katie

8oz (250gr) butternut squash
1 cup chopped onion (about 1/2 large yellow onion)
1 cup roughly chopped mushrooms
1 1/2oz (45gr) bacon
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp thyme
1 cup cooked rice
1/2 cups chicken stock
1/3 cup Greek yogurt
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg, lightly beaten

Peel the butternut squash and remove any seeds or stringiness. Cut butternut squash into small cubes. Peel and roughly chop the onion. Roughly chop bacon. Roughly chop the mushrooms.

Heat oil and paprika in a large skillet. Add bacon, squash, leeks and sauté until vegetables are tender bacon is done, about 10 minutes. Add chicken stock, thyme, rice, yogurt, Parmesan cheese and egg. Add salt and pepper as desired to taste.

To finish: Spoon into an oiled baking dish and bake, 400F (200C), for 15 minutes, until top starts to brown.

Serve hot (although I bet this tastes great cold, too).

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Coffee and Crunch

One of the best things about belonging to a group is that it often opens you up to new experiences. Sometimes the experiences provide a groundwork for later experiences, like the Daring Baker Gateau St. Honore. After that I knew how to do puff pastry, cream puffs, spun sugar and pastry cream, both regular and Chibost. Other times it's just for fun. The best ones are when you try something a little bit new and also make something that you know will become a favorite.

This month the Cake Slice Bakers chose to make a delicious moist cake with deep coffee flavor and a streusel for the top that used chopped up Heath Bars...a crisp toffee candy coated in milk chocolate. If you looked at this crunchy topping you would never think candy bar, would you?

Always the iconoclast, I jazzed mine up, since we already had the chocolate and candy thing going, with a scattering of chocolate chips right under the top bit of batter before you put on the topping. As expected, they dropped down to near the bottom of the cake.

This is the best coffee-chocolate cake ever!

Sweetie really liked this cake and he's not really a cake person. He said that not only did he enjoy the coffee flavor and really enjoy the crunchy topping, but that he liked how well it kept, even not refrigerated. He does enjoy New York style crumb cake for breakfast sometimes at our favorite cafe. That's probably why he sees this as a breakfast treat. I enjoyed a slice with tea in the afternoon at work...I know it's a coffee cake, but I had tea on hand and no coffee...and it was just as nice for a snack as for breakfast.

Coffee Heath Bar Crunch CakeMakes one 9-inch round Cake
(recipe from Cake Keepers Cakes by Lauren Chattman)

For the Cake

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup milk

For the Streusel

1 cup - 4 Heath bars (1.4 oz. each) chopped
2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp butter, softened

Optional - 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Method - Streusel
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a round 9-inch springform pan.

Combine the chopped Heath bars, brown sugar, flour and butter in a medium mixing bowl. Work the mixture with your fingers until it resembles large crumbs. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Method - Cake
Combine the flour, espresso powder, baking powder and salt in a medium mixing bowl. (Note: I left the espresso powder out of the dry ingredients and dissolved it in the milk because mine had so many lumps).

Combine the butter and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl and cream on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. With the mixer on low speed, add the egg, egg yolk and vanilla.

With the mixer on low speed, add a third of the flour mixture and half the milk, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Repeat, alternating the flour and milk, ending with the flour.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth into an even layer with the spatula. Scatter the chilled streusel onto the batter, distributing it evenly over the cake. (Note: I added 3/4 of the batter to the pan and spread it out, then scattered the chocolate chips over the batter as evenly as possible, then added the rest of the batter and spread it over the chips, then added the streusel as the recipe called for.)

Bake the cake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 55 to 60 minutes. (Note; You may find that less baking time is needed...start checking at 45 minutes.) Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes.

Release the sides of the pan and use a large spatula to slide the cake form the pan bottom onto a wire rack. Cool. (Note: I left the cake on the pan bottom until it was completely cool and that worked fine, too. Actually I served it from the cake pan bottom so I'm not sure about moving the cooled cake to a rack.)

I loved this cake from my first slice (and it was really difficult convincing myself to leave it at one slice). It is moist (I took it out of the oven once the sides started to pull away from the pan...about 50 minutes), has just the right amount of coffee flavor for me and the struesel is yummy! If you like coffee I think you will love this cake. XO Elle

Now check out the other Cake Slice Bakers' renditions of this yummy cake. The blogroll is HERE.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Trumpets please! Ra-ta-ta-taaa!

The Third Anniversary of the Bread Baking Babes is at hand. For this truly celebrational post each Babe was invited to choose one of the breads baked during the last three years and bake it. Since we usually all bake the Bread of the Month...all the same bread recipe with personal tweaks here and there...this is unusual. Looking at all the wonderful choices was both thrilling and daunting. Which to make?

Fortunately Sweetie helped me out by praising the light and flaky croissant he had purchased at a local bakery. They use lots of butter and truly make a great pastry. I've had the opportunity to make them while being a Daring Baker and again when the Babes made them in January of 2009, but somehow I never did.

What could be a better challenge since I knew that my favorite person would enjoy the results and February should be a nice cool time of year to do laminated dough.

The first assumption was true. I won't tell you how many he ate, but Sweetie really did enjoy these golden croissants.

The second assumption, that February would be cool and perfect for laminating dough, was not.

I made them on the last Sunday available to me before we posted...this past Sunday being my birthday and a day I had planned a women's tea party for Valentine's day.

Since laminated dough takes most of the day I wanted to do it on the weekend. Imagine my dismay when I found out that the Sunday forecast called for 74 degree heat! But it was even worse. The actual temperature ended up being 80 degrees. There was much swearing and banging of pans by the afternoon because the kitchen was at least that hot. Since I was baking Spritz cookies it probably was hotter. Can we groan 'laminate'? To top it all off, it was also Super Bowl Sunday, so all that banging and swearing was noticed.

Being an intrepid soul I kept going but found that I needed to put the dough packet in the freezer between turns in order for the dough to cool down enough.

Even so the butter was softer than it should be. Some even squished out of the dough as I rolled (See the butter squidge on the rolling pin?) so I used a piece of plastic wrap under the rolling pin and then scraped up the butter and put it back on the rolled out dough before making the envelope folds.
Even though it seemed unlikely that it would all work out, by the last turn (and I added a couple to finally bring the dough together in the late afternoon) I felt like the dough was OK and might even make some good bread. By the time they were shaped, had risen, had gotten their egg wash and were baked it was something like 9 pm. Since I had started at 7 am that was a clue that I wouldn't be doing this again soon. Still, if it weren't for the fabulous Bread Baking Babes, I might never have tried. It was truly a delight to pull the first pan from the oven and see the golden, gorgeous croissants!

Who knew that home-made croissants could be so good, heat and all? They were flaky and tender and golden and even good the next day. Sweetie enjoyed some, I had a couple, a few went to Grandma L and a couple went to friends. They might not have given Parisian croissants a run for their money but they beat out ones from the grocery store...more delicate and buttery!

You, too, can celebrate the Bread Baking Babes Third Anniversary. We had originally asked for your suggestions and I have to thank Tanita and Next Sister Down for great suggestions. I hope to bake your suggestions in the near future. As sometimes happens, the plans for the celebration changed.

Now the challenge is to choose, just as I did, from one of the breads baked by the Babes in the last three years, bake it and post about it by the end of the month. Here is a link to Lien's page where she has the photo collage plus links for all the breads baked those three years.

Once you do that, send a link to Tanna, our Kitchen of the Month, and she will do a roundup of Buddies. We hope that lots of our Buddies from the past, plus new Buddies, will meet the challenge and make this a memorable anniversary celebration!

Need some inspiration? Check out the posts of my fellow Babes...the links are on the right sidebar near the top of the blog. Also, please take a moment to admire the gorgeous new badge created by Lien in honor of the anniversary. So colorful!

Here is the recipe for the Croissants, copied from the Kitchen of the Month for January 2009 when the Babes did this challenge, including comments, minus photos.

The Dough, for Croissants, Pain au Chocolat, etc....
Copied fairly accurately from an article in France Magazine, 'Pastry from Heaven', by Michelin-star chef, Michel Roux.

Croissant dough is somewhat similar to puff pastry, in that a slab of butter is incorporated into the mixture and the dough is rolled and turned, but it actually belongs to the family of yeasted doughs, like brioche.

This classic dough is used to make various sweet and savory pastries. You can freeze unbaked croissants and Pains au Chocolat, after shaping but before brushing with egg, for up to 2 weeks. Separate with waxed or parchment paper so you can remove as many as you like.

Ingredients (I only have weights)
Yield: 1.1kg dough, enough for 14 - 16 croissants Time: 9 - 13 hours
25g fresh yeast
250ml whole milk
500g plain flour
12g fine salt
50g sugar
275g butter, cold but not too hard
Egg Wash - 1 egg yolk mixed with 1tbs milk

Dissolve the yeast in the milk. Put flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer with dough hook and mix on low. Gradually pour in the milk/yeast mixture.

Stop working the dough as soon as it comes away from the sides of the bowl. It should not become too elastic.

Cover the bowl with cling film and leave to rise in a warm place (24C, 75F) until doubled, 45 - 60 minutes.

Punch down dough by flipping it over with your hand, but do not overwork it. Cover the bowl again and refrigerate for at least 4 hours but not more than 8.

Punch down dough by flipping again and place on lightly floured surface.

Shape the dough into a ball and

cut a 3cm (1 1/4") cross in the center. roll out the 4 sides to make flaps.
Bash the butter with a rolling pin to make a rectangle and place in the center of the dough.

Fold the flaps over to completely enclose the butter.

First Turn: Lightly flour the work surface, roll the dough out to a 60 X 30cm (24 X 12") rectangle. Fold in thirds, wrap in cling film and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Second Turn: Give the chilled dough a quarter turn, roll out into the rectangle, fold, wrap and refrigerate as above, 30 minutes.

Third Turn: Roll the dough in the opposite direction as before, into the rectangle, fold wrap and refrigerate at least 30 but no more than 60 minutes.

The dough is now ready for use.


Cut a cardboard template, 9cm (3.5") base, 18cm (7") to the point. Lightly flour work surface and roll dough out to 65 X 40cm (26 X 16") rectangle. Lift it slightly off the surface to aerate it to keep it from shrinking. Trim sides with a sharp knife to make straight edges, then cut in half, lengthwise. Using the template as a guide, cut into triangles.

Lay 1 triangle on the work surface. Make a 1cm (1/3") cut in the middle of the base and pull the 2 base points slightly to separate; then pull the top point slightly. Roll the croissant from the base to the point. Place on a baking sheet and turn the base points to form a crescent

(You could lay a piece of ham on the base before rolling for a savory croissant) Repeat with the rest of the triangles.

Lightly but thoroughly brush with egg wash.

Put the croissants, on a baking tray, in a warm, preferably slightly humid, place (24 - 30C, 75 - 86F) to rise for 2 hours, or until almost doubled.

Brush with egg wash again, and bake in a preheated oven (170C, 340F) oven for 12 - 14minutes.

Remove, slather with lots and lots of butter and eat... (That last bit isn't actually part of the instructions - just my own idea... Depending on time of day, consume with either hot chocolate, coffee or red wine. Sharing optional)

Happy THIRD Anniversary Bread Baking Babes!

Monday, February 14, 2011


People make jokes about 'senior moments' when we forget something that we are sure we know or should remember, or we walk into a room but forget why we were going there. I'm not sure that you even need to be a 'senior'. With life seeming to be busier and busier all the time I bet that too much to do and to remember is all that is needed.

It happens to me more often lately and I'm not really alarmed because I figure the 'hard drive' is just filling up. The occasional lack of focus is more worrisome to me...forgetting that I have something in the oven for example can have very unfortunate consequences. This is not a new problem. I was well known as a child as the one who always burned the last sheet of cookies. I guess as the last sheet went in I turned my attention to other, more immediate, things and so those last cookies lost importance.

A recent result of lack of focus had nothing to do with baking cookies. After work on Friday I came home and my focus was clearly on something in the living room because I turned out of the hall into the living room....all except my right food which stay solidly on the floor and pointing the way I HAD been walking. This led to my knee being asked to do the impossible so it I have a knee injury that will probably take a while to heal and it messed up my birthday and Valentine's plans...a tea party for women friends. I'd gotten my tea pots out and made cute goodie bags with flower seeds and candy hearts and valentines on the front, plus baked a few cookies.

Which brings us back to cookies...wasn't that where we wanted to be anyway? For the tea party I had already made some Spritz cookies with a cookie press. Yes, I still have one of those. If I followed the organizers' dictum that anything not used in the last 3...or 5...or 7 years...then the press would be long gone. Being a bit of a pack rat, especially where baking things are concerned, I still had the cookie press and all of the discs for it carefully stored in a gallon Ziploc in the bottom back corner of my baking drawer.

I used to make Spritz cookies as a child...and burned the last sheet of them most likely...and one of the things I remembered is still true. Sometimes the dough needs more flour than the recipe calls for. I usually put about a cup of the dough into the press to try it out. This time I scooped out the squished dough three times before I achieved the right consistency and consistency is crucial when you are pressing dough through shaping discs.

First I made white flowers with yellow centers. Starting with white dough makes it lots easier to add more color streakiness. The yellow centers were achieved by putting about 2 tablespoons of dough into a sandwich size Ziploc bag, adding 3 drops of yellow food color, then kneading the color into the dough in the bag. A small snip off the end of the bag lets one use it as a pastry bag and pipe the yellow dough into the center of the white flower shapes.

After the flowers I made dark pink hearts...after all Valentine's Day is a day for hearts and flowers! Here the key is to find the right amount of twist to give the cookie press handle to turn out a heart shape that is a full shape but not too full. Once I figured that out the rest was easy.

If you don't have a cookie press and want to make these cookies...the texture and flavor are a really nice light butter cookie could shape balls in your hands (quickly because the dough melts easily) and then roll the balls in colored sugar or other decorations, then bake.

Happy Valentine's Day! Hope you get lots of hearts and flowers and love!

Spritz Cookies
For making with a cookie press
recipe from the Christmas Cookie Deck by Chronicle Books

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
dash of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Gradually add sugar and beat until light and fluffy.
Mix in egg and vanilla and almond extracts. Add flour and salt mixing until smooth.
Pack dough into a cookies press fitted with a star or ridged tip or any desired design. Press out dough onto greased baking sheet.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until edge are lightly browned. If a 1-inch wide ridged cutter is used, immediately cut strips crosswise on the diagonal to make 1 1/2 -inch-long cookies. Transfer to racks to cool. Makes about 6 dozen.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

A New Way with Spinach

I'm a big fan of spinach, both fresh and cooked. The bags of precleaned baby spinach that are available in your market...and I found a nice, fresh bag at Target yesterday, too...make it so easy to prepare something quick using the delightful taste and slug of nutrients that spinach brings to your dish.

Dorie Greenspan has written some great baking books. All of the recipes seem to be perfectly written, so I was thrilled to get her latest book, Around My French Table, for Christmas this year. In it she has a great recipe for steamed spinach flavored with lemon zest.

What is new about it is that she specifies tossing the unsteamed spinach with olive oil, lemon zest, salt and pepper as you would a salad. Then you take that spinach, which now is dressed and flavored throughout, and steam it lightly. Once steamed it's ready to be served. She recommends using tongs and letting any extra liquid that has formed drip off the spinach being held by the tongs before plating it.

The photos are merely suggestions for how green and stunning the spinach looks on the plate. My focus on photography has gone missing of late...hope it returns soon.

We had the spinach with some whole-wheat pasta and a sauce that was based on my favorite pasta sauce, but had Italian turkey sausage instead of plain ground turkey for the protein, lots of chopped Italian parsley, and some fire-roasted, peel and diced red pepper. A good dusting of grated Parmesan finished it off nicely and the steamed spinach was a sprightly counterpoint for the heavy herby sauce.

Lemon Steamed Spinach
From Around My French Table, by Dorie Greenspan

1 1/4 lbs (two 10-oz. bags) baby spinach (precleaned and trimmed)
1 - 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Have your steamer set up and ready to go - make sure you don't fill the pot with so much water that it will boil up into the steaming basket.

Put the spinach in a bowl and toss it with 1 tablespoon of the oil, the zest and salt and pepper to taste. Taste for seasoning and, if the spinach looks dry, add some or all of the remaining olive oil.

Turn the spinach into the pot, cover, and steam for 3 minutes - the spinach will probably need another minute or two before it's tender, but it's a good idea to check early ad to give it a turn. The spinach should be served as soon as it's cooked. Makes 4 servings.

Note: I made half the recipe, using one bag of prepared spinach and the zest from half a lemon...worked just as well but no leftovers.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Edge of Winter Bread

I still read the daily newspaper. That does, indeed, make me something of a dinosaur, but I enjoy reading the paper during breakfast and I have difficulty mixing food and drink and computer use...guess it's because I'm prone to spilling things and I would hate to have scrambled eggs all over my keyboard or coffee splashes on my screen.

One of the things that has been really brought to the front time and again this past week or so are all of the extremes of weather around the globe, from flooding followed by a cyclone in Australia to cold so extreme in Taos where my sister and brother-in-law live that the natural gas from Texas is unavailable...most likely it turned to a liquid and is just sitting in the pipes.

Snow continues to confound New York city with it's persistence and depth, snow sliding off the Superbowl stadium slid onto an unlucky bypasser, and we are having a long dry warm spell. Now this might sound like boasting, but they tell us that we should worry because February is supposed to be wet...we don't usually get much rain during the summer and early fall, so we need it now.

Being an optimistic sort of person I'm not going to worry about the lack of rain. Instead I made bread and since it IS still winter I added lemon zest and some Meyer Lemon flavored olive oil, plus dried fruit. I even used the last of my Michigan dried cherries! Maybe I'll get some for Christmas.

This bread is fine grained and moist, just slightly sweet, and makes excellent toast. I divided the dough in half and used one half to make 6 mini-breads, baked in custard cups and ramekins. The other half was shaped into a ball and baked in a pie pan. That loaf will work for sandwiches or some great French Toast.You can shape your as you like. This dough is easy to work with.

If you want to use it as a sweet bread for breakfast, you could add another 1/3 cup brown sugar when you mix the liquid ingredients. Shape one piece of dough in a braid...and you could even top it with the second piece, braided. When baked and cooled a milk and powdered sugar icing drizzled on top and a scattering of sliced almonds will make it quite impressive.

This bread is going to Susan at Wild Yeast for the Yeastspotting weekly event, one of the most inspiring and fun weekly collections of bread you've ever seen.

Lemon Winter Sourdough Mini-Breads and Round Loaf
Recipe created by me

1 cup sourdough starter
1 cup flour
1 cup water

1/2 cup water at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1/2 cup milk at room temperature
all of Pre-Ferment
1 egg
5 tablespoons Meyer Lemon or regular olive oil
grated zest of 1 medium lemon
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
2 1/2 - 3 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt

Fruit Mix
1/2 cup dried cherries, chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup shredded coconut

Whisk the flour and water together in a medium bowl, then whisk in the sourdough starter until well combined. Let sit uncovered on the counter 2 hours. Cover with plastic wrap and keep in the refrigerator for at least 1 day or up to 1 week.

Add the instant yeast to the water and let proof. In the bowl of an electric mixer with dough hook, or in a large mixing bowl, combine the water-yeast mixture, milk and pre-ferment. Add the egg, olive oil, and brown sugar, lemon zest and combine well.

In another bowl combine the all-purpose and whole-wheat flours, 1 cup of the bread flour and the salt with a whisk until well mixed. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour about a cup at a time, for the first 2/3 of the flour mixture. The dough should come together and start climbing the dough hook. Add the remaining 1 cup flour mixture in 1/3 cup increments then continue to add the rest of the bread flour in small amounts until the dough fully climbs the dough hook and cleans the side of the bowl. Let dough knead for 3 - 5 minutes, or until soft and supple.

Turn dough into an oiled bowl or container for rising, cover loosely with an oiled piece of plastic wrap, then a tea towel and let rise until doubled, about 2 hours.

While dough rises, combine the Fruit Mix ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.

Turn risen dough out onto lightly floured surface and press down to release gases. Divide into 2 pieces of dough. Set one aside.

Knead 1/2 of fruit mix into one piece of dough. Knead the other 1/2 of the fruit mix into the other piece of dough. Shape dough as desired. Cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap and a tea towel and let rise until nearly doubled in bulk, about 2 hours for a loaf or 1 hour for rolls.

Bake in preheated 375 degree oven until golden brown and loaf sounds hollow when bottom is tapped.

Let cool completely. Makes great toast!

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Gremolata and Blood Oranges

My mind usually turns to baking and making sweets. Guess it's both because I have a sweet tooth and because I'm endlessly fascinated with the process of baking...turning butter and sugar and flour and more into delicious treats.

But sometimes I get a notion of something I'd like to cook that isn't sweet. That happened the other day as I was driving home from work. I'd recently read a recipe that used gremolata as a finisher to the dish and I thought that it would be interesting to take the chicken thighs that I knew were in the fridge at home and cook them in the manner of osso bucco, but with red wine instead of white, and then finish them off when I served them with a nice sprinkle of gremolata.

O.K. first off, gremolata is a combination of minced parsley (I use Italian parsley for the good strong flavor of it) and minced fresh garlic and freshly grated lemon zest. When combined the flavor is zesty and refreshing and a nice counterpoint to a slow cooked entree which usually has mellow flavors. This whole post is dedicated to Natasha because she has been waiting patiently for the recipes.

Now that I'd daydreamed an entree, I turned to what should go with it. A roasted beet salad on field greens with some small chunks of a good blue cheese seemed like it would go well with the chicken dish. Here is a dish of roasted, peeled beets and some blood orange halves.

A citrus dressing would be seasonal and add some fruitiness, too. Around here it's the season for both blood oranges and Meyer lemons so I picked up some of each at the farm stand I pass on my way home. The next day I bought the organic beets and the blue cheese, plus some tricolor potato gnocchi that looked good. Everything else was already in the fridge or pantry. I started the chicken about 1 pm and once it was simmering I joined Sweetie down the hill where he was putting new boards on the farmhouse deck. By the time we had all the boards attached...and I did learn how to use the impact driver by the time I'd done all the fasteners in the middle of the deck!...the chicken was done and the beets I'd roasted earlier were cool enough to peel.

Blood orange juice is a lovely light fuchsia color so the dressing is pink even without any beet juices.

Both the chicken recipe and the vinaigrette recipe are ones where I've pulled bits and pieces from a number of recipes I found online. The vinaigrette in particular was a work in progress as I made it...less olive oil than I had originally planned, blood orange zest added...something none of the recipes I looked at had included which is odd when you consider how much flavor the zest has...less honey, too.

That evening we truly had a feast. The chicken was so tender it fell off the bone. The sauce created by the wine, chicken, herbs, and vegetables was great over the gnocchi, and the gremolata did the job of brightening up the dish. The salad was an excellent combination of flavors. I later wished that I'd added some toasted nuts...maybe hazelnuts or walnuts...but there was none left once we enjoyed it.

I cut the beets in wedges and marinated them for about 15 minutes in the blood orange dressing but if you are short of time you could slice them quickly and pour a little of the vinaigrette over them after you lay them over the dressed greens.

Slow-cooked Chicken Thighs with Gremolata

4 chicken thighs...I used bone-in thighs but boneless work well, too.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1/3 cup chopped carrots
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried rosemary or 1 stalk fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or 3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 can diced tomatoes in juice
about 1 cup red wine
salt and pepper


1 clove garlic, finely chopped,
Zest of one lemon (I used a regular lemon, not a Meyer lemon)
1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
Mix the three ingredients together until well combined.

Rinse and dry the chicken thighs. Heat a skillet or Dutch oven over high heat and add the olive oil. Brown the chicken thighs, turning once after about 5 minutes. Once browned remove to a plate and set aside.

If you have used chicken with skin you may have to pour off some of the fat from the pan. 1-2 tablespoons is all that is needed to sauté the vegetables.

Sauté the onions, celery and carrots for about 5 minutes, until onions are translucent. Spread the vegetables out on the bottom of the pan. Top with the browned chicken thighs.

Add the herbs to the pan, putting some on top of each piece of chicken. Pour the tomatoes and juice over everything in the pan. Add the red wine until the thighs are at least 2/3 covered. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cover the pan, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Chicken will be very tender.

Serve over gnocchi, rice, noodles or mashed potatoes, spooning some of the juices over. Sprinkle the chicken pieces with Gremolata and serve hot.

For the Roasted Beet Salad with Blue Cheese and Blood Orange Vinaigrette I tossed field greens with some of the blood orange vinaigrette, put them on a salad plate, topped with the marinated roasted beets, sprinkled on about 1 teaspoon of crumbled blue cheese and served the salads. Toasted nuts would make a nice addition.

Roasted Beets

4-5 small to medium beets, well scrubbed to remove dirt

Cut the root end off the beets and the leaves if your beets come that way. No need to peel the beets now. Lay the beets on a sheet of aluminum foil. Bring two sided together and fold over a couple of times to seal. Bring the ends up and over the packet. Roast in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 1/2 hour, or until beets are tender when pierced with a sharp knife tip.

Let the beets cool. Slip the peels off and cut into wedges or slices. Any leftovers should be kept refrigerated.

Blood Orange Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (I used raspberry infused)
1/3 cup blood orange juice
zest from 1 blood orange
1/2 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Dijon style mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon finely chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Put all ingredients into a jar with a screw top lid, put the top on tightly and shake until ingredients are fully mixed and mixture thickens slightly. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed. Serve at once. Can be stored in the refrigerator for a week.