Thursday, February 07, 2013

Alma's Multigrain Bread

I was 10 when my mother learned to bake bread.

An elderly church member in rural Minnesota would tuck honey-scented loaves of bread into churchgoers' cars on her way home after the service. The lovely scent of fresh, warm bread filled the car before you got inside and was the very best kind of welcome.

We were blessed with bread at least three times before my mom thought, or worked up the courage, to ask, and Alma leaped at the chance to teach our family how to bake bread. Several lovely afternoons were spent in Alma's farm kitchen, with my mom and sister and I learning to knead bread dough, how the right consistency feels and the hollow sound a properly baked loaf makes when tapped.

And the best part: Alma taught us how perfect bread tastes straight from the oven, still steaming hot, when you impatiently slice into it and slather it with churned butter and fresh raspberry jam. The very best way to pass a rainy summer afternoon. And I happily spent several that way.

Alma graciously supervised the first at-home baking, loaning us several of her family recipes. After Mom managed the first brown loaves on her own, Alma passed along a handful of bread pans. We've used these vintage tins ever since. At about 3" by 7", they were the perfect size for our family of five. We used one entire loaf of bread whenever we made sandwiches or toast. So Mom could freeze and thaw bread meal by meal.

Up until Mom went back to work full time, somewhere in my high school days, we made our own bread every week in batches four to eight loaves at a time. (I'm using "we" very generously as Mom did most, if not all, of the actual work. We kids were easily bored after the initial ingredient measuring or one round of dough punching.)

This is how I learned what bread actually tastes like, bread made with honest, real ingredients — something it's not easy to know in these days of the pillow soft supermarket loaves. Of course this is something I plan to pass along to my kids. Even if unwrapping their imperfectly-shaped sandwiches on homemade bread in the school cafeteria makes them as uncomfortable as it made me a thousand years ago. But a house slowly filling with the scent of baking bread, just a little bit of honey and the magic of kneaded wheat, now that's the thing to win them back every time.

Alma's Multigrain Bread

Makes 2 small loaves

In a medium bowl, mix:

2 pkgs yeast (or 4 1/2 tsp)
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup warm water

Mix together and set aside for five minutes, or while gathering the other ingredients, until the yeast is dissolved and foamy. To a large mixing bowl, add the dry ingredients and stir to combine:

3 cups white flour (+ more for kneading)
1 cup oats
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup corn meal
2 tsp salt

When your yeast is foamy, add:

1 1/2 cups warm water
1/4 cup vegetable oil (anything neutral-tasting works here)

Mix wet ingredients together and pour over dry. Stir to make a shaggy dough, then turn out of the bowl onto a floured countertop and knead until smooth and elastic, at least five minutes by the clock. Wipe out the bowl and oil it lightly. Place the dough in the bowl and turn it once so the entire surface is lightly coated with oil. Let it rise in a slightly warm spot for an hour (if it rises much faster, your spot is too warm). When it's doubled in size, punch it down, breaking any big air pockets. Let it rise a second time until doubled, about 30-45 minutes. Punch down the bubbles and shape into loaves. Put into 2 small, buttered pans, those vintage bread pans, about 3" x 7", or one large loaf. Preheat your oven to 350º while the loaves rise a third time. Only about 20-30 minutes, until they're doubled in size, bubbled over the tops of the pans.

Bake at 350º for 30-35 minutes, until the loaf is browned and it sounds hollow when the bottom is tapped. I'm not sure what the time difference is if you make one large loaf, but I'd guess at least 10 minutes. I actually use bread pans from Alma herself, so I've never tried.

Let the bread cool entirely before slicing.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Baked Pumpkin Soup

Okay, yes, I made this because I thought it was cute. And it IS cute. It's soup baked inside a sweet little pumpkin. Hi, baby pumpkin! But since the presentation is not how you actually eat the thing, it's still a bit of work. Just admitting that whole thing up front. It sure is cute, though. I mean, I took it out of the oven and thought, Well aren't you precious. Followed shortly by: I will eat you.

The other thing is, I don't remember where I got this idea. I know I read it somewhere, but the where escapes me. I distinctly remember that, wherever this was, they simply scooped the inside of the pumpkin out into the goopy, soupy whatever they baked with it. So I'm not sure they were making soup. So maybe I didn't just steal this idea, uncredited.

Back to the recipe...

It's really a clean (potless!) and easy way to make the soup, and it has a flavor I'm not sure you'd duplicate on the stovetop. You'll have to pour the liquids out after baking, however, and scoop the pumpkin "meat" into a dish you can use to zap it with the immersion blender (or directly into the blender). But for me, it seemed easier than peeling and cutting the pumpkin initially when it's hard as a rock and slippery.

Baked Pumpkin Soup

Serves 2-3 
(2 if you loooove soup, as I do. Up to 4 if you live with dudes, like my husband, who say "What is this?Pumpkin?" with that face. You know the one.)

1 small pumpkin, about 1-1/2 to 2 pounds
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cube vegetable boullion
2 T grated parmesan cheese
small sprig fresh rosemary
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 350º (or your convection to 325º) and wash the outside of your pumpkin with soap. Get a pie tin or ceramic dish large enough for your pumpkin to sit inside. You may want to spray the bottom, where the pumpkin will sort of wilt over it.

Cut a hole in the top of your pumpkin, angling the knife about 45 degrees and cutting so that the lid rests on the flesh inside, rather than falling inside. Scoop out the seeds and goop, directly into a sieve if you're planning to keep the seeds. (Do it! Search for 'pumpkin seeds' at Tastespotting and bake them off into one of the yummy recipes you'll find. Or that's what I did....)

Pour the cream inside, and crumble the boullion cube over the top.

Like so. ^

Then fill 'er up with water, leaving about an inch of space at the top, and replace the lid. Place your pumpkin on top of your baking dish of choice and into the oven for an hour. Stir it up a few times, as you please. It may take another 30-60 minutes for your pumpkin to completely cook through, depending on its size and shape. When the pumpkin is cooked (you can check by piercing the inside with a fork, just like you regularly would test whether a squash is finished cooking), take the whole thing out and let it cool down on top of the stove until you can handle it without burning yourself.

When you are brave enough, start by fishing out your rosemary sprig. If the leaves fell off, no worries. But the stem won't taste very good.

Pour the creamy, soupy contents out of the pumpkin and into your blender, or a deep ceramic bowl if you'll be immersion blending, and scoop out the cooked pumpkin. Go right down to the skin. I found it easiest to cut the pumpkin in half first. Whiz or blend away. When the soup is smooth, add the parmesan cheese and stir well, letting it do that magical melting thing that cheese does. Future me: I think gruyere would be good here, too. Taste it. Add salt and pepper as you like.

Eat it with croutons or crackers, or something salty and crunchy. Maybe your pumpkin seeds? I used the leftover tiny baby pita chip crumbs that I hate throwing away but are obviously too small for the hummus. They were delightful.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Apple Pancakes

Welcome, apple season! So thrilled you've come 'round again. I think I've lost more enamel on my teeth from eating you all, but you're so delicious that I will just suck it up and use that special toothpaste for a while.

For those who are wondering how to squeeze more fall action into their breakfasts, here's the perfect pancake recipe. These are the puffy kind of pancakes, not so sweet, which is fine since you're probably loading it up with syrup. Right? I knew it.

I use a 1/2 cup measuring cup to make 5 giant pancakes. But that's just my preference. I have 2 littles (yes, that explains the lengthy hiatus) and need to be away from the stove as quickly as possible, so I get 'er done in as few pancakes as I can. Plus, it's funny to watch a 2-year-old see a pancake larger than his head. If you do 1/3 cup, I bet you could get 8 good-sized pancakes.

High-Rise Apple Pancakes

1 cup AP flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (or just use more AP)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2-1/2 tsp baking powder
2 T sugar
1/4 tsp apple pie spice (or just cinnamon)
1 large egg
1 cup + 2 T milk (any variety, soy will do)
3 T vegetable oil (or melted butter)
1 medium apple, any variety (I used golden delicious)

Heat up a cast-iron skillet. It will take one thousand years, so start it now. I use the medium setting, but it really depends on your stove. Or you can use your favorite pancake pan.

Mix up the flours, salt, powder and spice in a medium-size bowl. Grate the apple on a box grater and then gently stir it — and the juice it makes — into your flour mixture.

Whisk the egg into the milk and oil until everything is blended.  Pour over the flour mixture, and use a spatula to stir it all together. Don't overmix. Once it all looks incorporated, stop.

Whatever way, they're delicious with maple syrup. Make sure you use the good (real) kind.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Breakfast Casserole

Slice of the finished product
Or, Clean-Out-the-Refrigerator Casserole, to be more precise. But it's more breakfast-y than lunch-y, as it's held together with an egg-and-milk custard base. We're going to just go with that.

I don't know about you, but whenever people visit me, I tend to have a full refrigerator. Just in case. What if they're yogurt people? Or maybe they hate yogurt and want pancakes instead? If I'm not sure, and sometimes even then, I will stock up on a little of everything. Which is fine, until we eat out most of the visit and I'm left with a hundred small things slowly going to waste.

If you're anything like me, you might want a recipe like this in your back pocket. It's pretty simple. I'll tell you what I had on hand, but you can use nearly anything that sounds like it might taste good together. With a solid egg base and a little overnight soak in the fridge, your breakfast casserole may turn out to be more of a weekly staple than you might expect. Especially during farmers market season...

Okay, what I had on hand were leftover potato wedges, a handful of corn, raw asparagus and chives, grated cheddar from taco night, previously-fried veggie sausage and two hamburger buns. You could bake this right away, of course, but the bread benefits most from an overnight soaking, turning into a soft extension of the custard. It's like a savory version of baked french toast. And you don't need to have any of the stuff I used. As long as you have the custard ingredients, just fill your pie dish with about 2 cups of chopped veggies topped with 2 cups equivalent of bread, and you'll be golden.

All layered together and ready to soak overnight

Breakfast Casserole

Makes one deep pie dish full, six big wedges

4 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup grated cheese, any kind (I used cheddar)

Optional ingredients:
1 cup of baked potato wedges, chopped into 1/2" pieces
1/2 cup corn kernels
6 stalks of asparagus, trimmed and sliced
a handful of chives, chopped
3 veggie breakfast sausages
2 seeded hamburger buns

Butter or spray a deep dish pie baker.

Chop your veggie (and veggie meat) ingredients and layer them in the bottom of your baker. Cover with half of the grated cheese. Slice the bread that you're using into 1/2" thick wedges and arrange them over the top of your veggies, squeezing them in so they all fit in a single layer.

Whisk the eggs, milk and cream together briskly until combined and slightly frothy. Add a big pinch of salt and some pepper, if you like. I do. Slowly pour the egg mixture over the bread. Press the bread down slightly, making sure it's all covered in eggy goodness. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, set your oven to 350º but don't bother waiting for it to preheat. Toss in the casserole dish right away and set a timer for 45 minutes. (Depending on how watery your vegetable layers are, it may take more time to bake. Mine were pretty dry.) If the bread on top is golden brown and the entire casserole is puffed up, it's probably done, even if there's a small indentation at the center. Check the casserole by poking a knife into the center. You don't want any runny egg juice to foam up, but the knife won't be dry like you've made a cake. If yours isn't done, keep baking in 10 minute increments until the loose eggs are cooked.

Baked, after an overnight soak in the fridge
Let the finished casserole sit for about 10 minutes, if you possibly can. It will cooperate better while you're slicing it up, even though it deflates a bit. I didn't wait. Which is why my slice had three pieces to it and my husband's, 15 minutes later, came out perfectly triangular. Whatever. Still tasted good.

If you are more patient than I am, or you have more time, or you're serving this up for a crowd, it goes well with a green salad, dressed with something tart, like a lemon vinaigrette. Yep, that would have been a good addition to today's breakfast, if only I'd had some leftover lettuce.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Summer Cornbread: Fresh Corn, Browned Butter, Basil & a Peach

If you're anything like me, you enjoy a fat wedge of hearty cornbread alongside your favorite winter soup. It's even better drizzled with honey. Growing up in the wilds of Minnesota gave me insight into the cornbread experience, and it wasn't all good. Cornbread can, in fact, be awful: so gloppily thick that it's even difficult to improve with quantities of honey.

It's taken some time to perfect my cornbread recipe. My standard fare is rich with browned butter and textured with corn, usually of the frozen variety because I make it in winter. But I decided — due to the leftover cobs frowning at me from the depths of the fridge — to try creating a summer staple. (No worries, I kept the browned butter aspect.)

Fluffy and moist, this bread pairs well with a fresh salad and, as always, honey. It barely clings together and offers an intense corn-centered experience with fresh corn, cornmeal and corn flour. The peaches nearly dissolve if chopped finely, creating a hint of sweetness on the tongue, fragrant with basil. It's not a fast recipe, though it bakes up quickly enough once you're organized, but it's a nice changeup from the usual sweet corn recipes and it smacks of summer. If you love cornbread, don't miss this delicious version!

Summer Cornbread
Makes 8 wedges or one castiron skillet's worth

1/2 cup unsalted butter

2 cobs of corn, husked, kernels sliced off the cob (about 1 cup or so)
1 large peach, peeled and diced
1/4 cup basil, chopped (I used sweet purple but green is just as nice)

3/4 cup AP flour
1/4 cup corn flour (or another 1/4 cup AP)
1 cup cornmeal
3/4 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp baking powder
3 T sugar

1 cup soymilk + 1 tsp cider vinegar (or 1 cup milk)
1 egg

Note: If you have a castiron skillet, I highly recommend you use it here for both browning your butter and baking the cornbread. If not, use a saucepan for making the browned butter and an 8"x8" baker or deep dish pie plate for the cornbread. I'm going to proceed as if you own a castiron skillet.

Does your browned butter look like this? A little caramelly in color means yummy flavor.

Preheat your oven to 425º and set your skillet on the stove over medium-high heat with the stick of butter inside. It will melt as the skillet heats up. You're looking for the foaming part of the butter solids to brown and fall to the bottom of the pan, where they'll start to smell really nice for you. When this happens, take the skillet off the heat, swirl the pan to coat the sides a bit — this is for when the bread starts baking – and then pour the butter off into a glass or ceramic bowl to cool. (If this is your first time making browned butter, keep an eye on it the whole time. Once it starts to brown, the process goes quickly from browned to burnt.)

Dry ingredients mixed together with corn, peaches & basil

Measure the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl and swirl together well with a spatula. Prep your corn, peach and basil on a cutting board and then toss them into the dry ingredients. Mix lightly, until everything is coated with the flour mixture.

And into the oven you go!

Pour the soy (or milk) into a separate bowl and add in the egg. Whisk to combine and add in the slightly cooled browned butter. Pour over the dry ingredients and fold gently with the spatula, just until no clumps of dry flour remain. Smooth batter into the warm skillet and bake for 20-25 minutes. The top should be puffed, dry and golden brown, and the edges around the pan should be browned and crisp where we left that nice ring of butter.

The longer it cools, the better the slices will hold their shape. I can manage to wait about 10 minutes, however, so my first slice is more of a pudding. Mmm, corn pudding.

Ready to go outside and eat on the patio...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Breakfast Pizza

You heard me.

People make all kinds of things for breakfast, and I like pizza. Not just the leftover kind all the time either.

Back when I worked at the bakery, I introduced this pizza, topped with eggs and chorizo, and everyone's nose turned up slightly as they asked "What is that?" And yet, they had to try it. Within a week, it flew off the shelf still warm. The local favorite was a vegetarian Greek variety. It's been three years since I made this pizza, and I'd nearly forgotten about it.

Then I had a plastic container of pizza dough from Whole Foods (they make excellent dough, if you are in a hurry), and my husband craved his favorite pizza buffet the night before. So I was wondering why on earth I should make another regular pizza when I finally remembered my yummy breakfast treat.

Funny thing, I had never made it at home. George turned up his nose at the thought of breakfast pizza, and I laughed with the memory. "It's made of pizza," I flung back at him confidantly, "you'll love it." And he did.

The one trick to breakfast pizza is cooking the crust a bit first so your scrambled eggs don't get overhard. But otherwise, it's just like making breakfast on top of a pizza. I cook the eggs separately, until they're barely set, and then load everything on top of a halfway cooked crust. This one in the photos is the simplest pizza you can make, just a few slices of tomatoes and cheese atop soft scrambled eggs and a salsa-tomato sauce. It's easily improved by olives, capers and feta, cooked hash browns and leftover veggie sausage — anything you can imagine on pizza. Feel free to experiment. Breakfast pizza is delicious and super easy!

Breakfast Pizza
Makes 1 large pizza for 3-4 hungry eaters

1 recipe of pizza crust or the small size Whole Foods prepped crust, at room temperature
1/2 cup pizza sauce
3/4 cup salsa
2 red potatoes, very thinly sliced
6 eggs
2 T cream
1 T butter
1-2 ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
1-1/2 cups pepperjack cheese, or a mix of mozzarella and cheddar, shredded

Heat the oven to 450º with a pizza stone inside. (If you don't have a stone, use the back of a baking sheet instead.) Let the oven come to temperature.

Scramble the eggs into a bowl with the cream and heat a frying pan over low-medium heat with the tablespoon of butter inside.

Cover your potatoes with saran wrap and microwave for 2 minutes, until they are soft. They should be very nearly cooked through.

Once your oven's hot, roll the dough out to the size of your pizza stone, usually about 12-14" in diameter and slide it onto the stone. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the crust is dry on top and the bottom is starting to brown.

While the crust bakes, cook the scrambled eggs, continuing to scramble them slowly in the pan. It should take about 8-10 minutes for the eggs to grow somewhat solid, still really soft, but not runny. If they seem to be setting too quickly, turn the burner down. When they're getting close to set, turn the burner off and remove the pan from the stove.

When the crust is out of the oven, slather the sauce and salsa onto the crust. Spread potato slices over the sauce/salsa. Layer the eggs over the sauce, and then the tomato slices. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over everything. I usually sprinkle a little pepper on top, too.

Bake another 8-10 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and hot. Let it sit about 5-10 minutes to let the cheese stand up and then slice and eat. Serve with more salsa.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Hummus Dressing

Another fantastic discovery today: hummus makes exquisite salad dressing. Think about it. Don't be a-feared. Why not loosen it up and pour it over your favorite cut vegetables — things you'd otherwise be dipping in it?

I had seedless cucumbers, tomatoes and carrots on hand, but this would be delicious with some red onion, green pepper, even some whole chickpeas, tossed in. And some toasted baguette slices to sop up the dregs. What I love about these lettuceless salads is their longevity. Crisp and refreshing, they stay that way while I eat them, a bite here and there, between answering my baby's alternating cries and squeals.

Hummus Dressing
Serves 1

Use a large spoon for "measuring" and just eyeball it, then use the same spoon for stirring and eating your salad!

1 T of your favorite hummus (homemade works great!)
1 T water
1/2 T olive oil
1/2 T red wine vinegar, if desired
pinch salt + freshly ground pepper to taste

"Measure" everything into an empty jam jar and shake vigorously. Pour over 2 cups of chopped veggies, stir and eat.


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