26 December 2013

Bacon and Cheddar Quiche


Quiche hadn't been on the menu for a while, so one day when I needed to figure out what I could make for dinner that wouldn't require a trip to the market, this was it. You can make a quiche out of anything, so I took an inventory of the larder.
 

I always have flour, butter and a few kinds of cheese; but what else did I have on hand? I had exactly 6 ounces of bacon, a little piece of onion, eggs and milk. Simple ingredients, wonderful flavors; resist the urge to embellish.

About "blind" baking or par-baking a pie shell: You can use pie weights if you want to, but I never do. And I never have trouble with the pastry sliding down into the dish. I think that is because I rest/chill the pastry before rolling it out. Then I roll it out and settle it into the pie plate without stretching it, do a nice crimped edge, and pop it back into the fridge for another rest/chill before baking. And it never bubbles up on the bottom or slithers down the sides; it comes out just the way it went in!

 

Bacon and Cheddar Quiche



(Makes one 9-inch quiche)


The Pastry (or my Gluten-Free Pie Crust)

1 1/4 dip-and-sweep cups (6.25 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, well chilled
4 tablespoons ice water
1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon additional ice water, if needed



The Filling

6 ounces bacon, cut into 1/4-inch slices (I always use uncured, no added nitrates or nitrites)
1/4 cup chopped onion
4 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
4 large eggs
1 3/4 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon marjoram
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes

1 In medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt and baking powder. With coarse grater, grate butter into flour bowl. With fingers, quickly work the butter into the flour, leaving some pieces the size of small peas.

2 In small bowl, combine water and vinegar. Sprinkle over flour mixture while stirring with large fork. Add a little more water, if needed.

3 Turn dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and flatten slightly into a 4-inch disk; double wrap; refrigerate for one hour or up to four days. May be frozen for up to a month; defrost, wrapped, in the refrigerator.

4 If dough is thoroughly chilled, let it stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before rolling. Butter a 9-inch glass pie plate. On lightly floured surface, roll out disk to a 13-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Place pastry in pie plate, being careful to not stretch the dough. Crimp the edge. (Sometimes you need to chill the pastry a bit before crimping.) Cover loosely and refrigerate* for 30 minutes. During last 15 minutes, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prick the bottom of the crust all over with a fork. Bake the thoroughly chilled crust for 20 minutes.




5 *While pie shell is chilling and then baking, prepare filling. In skillet, sauté the bacon pieces until slightly crisp; drain on paper towel. Pour most of fat out of the skillet and sauté the onions for 5 minutes.

6 Remove par-baked pie shell from the oven; leave the oven at 375 degrees. In small bowl (I use a 1-quart glass measure), combine eggs, milk, salt, pepper and herbs. Scatter a third of the cheese over the crust, then the onion, half the remaining cheese, the bacon, half the remaining cheese. Pour in the filling, and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake at 375 degrees for about 35 minutes or until crust is golden and knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Note: Vegetarians might like my Vegetable Quiche (Julia Child fans might enjoy the post because it includes one of my Julia stories). And there are lots of quiche recipes in Julia's Mastering the Art of French Cooking (2 Volume Set).

19 December 2013

Cutout Sugar Cookies - No Rolling


Whenever someone offers me sugar cookies, I'm always hoping they'll be my grandmother's thin, crisp and tender cookies. But they never are. It seems everyone makes the thick kind. No thanks. I know the thick ones are easier to make, not so tricky to handle, but they are not the sugar cookies of my childhood, the ones that go so perfectly with a nice cup of tea. 

My maternal grandmother, called "Ma" by all the family, was English and drank tea constantly throughout the day and even the night. Every night. Whenever she came to town, she stayed for about a month. If it was summertime (no school), I was allowed to get up with her in the middle of the night. We would sit in the kitchen drinking tea and talking about England.

Yes, I was allowed to drink black tea when I was a small child! (It's not the worst thing my parents ever did!) I've been drinking tea since I was four (actually probably two-ish) and, like Ma, I drink it constantly throughout the day and occasionally even in the middle of night. I seem to have inherited a gene from her that allows me to have a nice, strong cup of tea and go right to sleep. (Coffee is another matter entirely.)

She was a wonderful baker (My cousin Denise and I still talk about it!), as was my mother; so when Ma was in town, the two ovens in the old Wedgewood gas stove never got a chance to cool off. Like the day when they were baking these cookies ... all ... day ... long. I was six and the next sibling in line was 12, and we both kept "testing" cookies from each batch. I didn't eat nearly so many as my brother did, but he always could handle sugar better than I. I ended up being sick. And when I say "being sick," I mean that in the English sense (I ended up tossing my cookies!).

Of course, my grandmother rolled her cookies out very thinly and transferred them to the baking sheets without a problem. And I don't have a problem with the thicker cookies that are rolled out 1/4-inch thick. But I don't like those. I like the thin ones my grandmother made. So I came up with this easy no-roll method.

Without further ado, here are the cookies I tossed!

Unrolled Cutout Sugar Cookies

(Makes 42 cookies with my cutters) 

1 1/2 packed cups (7.5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons (5 ounces) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature but still cold
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 In small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In medium bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Of course, these days I'm using my Cuisinart stand mixer, something my grandmother never had. Beat in egg and vanilla. Stir in flour mixture a little at a time, forming a soft but not sticky dough. Put dough into a bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until the next day.

2 Instead of rolling out the dough and having to concern yourself with chilling the dough at several stages, just get out the bowl of dough, a flat-bottomed stainless steel 1/2-cup measuring cup that measures 2.5 inches* across the bottom and a #60 (1/2 ounce / 1 tablespoon) scoop and make it easy on yourself!

* Your measuring cup set might have different diameters than mine; use whichever cup is 2.5 inches or a little more.


3 Right on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, place the scoops of dough and flatten them with the measuring cup, dipping it in flour between cookies. Press the dough to 1/8-inch thick. Cut out cookies with metal cutter(s), dipping the cutter in flour before each cut. With cutter still in place, peel away the dough around the cutter; toss it back into the bowl. When the sheet is filled, place it in the freezer for 15 minutes before baking; this is to keep the cookies from spreading while they bake. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

4 Place cookie sheet with cookies on parchment paper in preheated oven and bake for about 8 to 9 minutes, or until the cookies are lightly colored on top and just starting to brown slightly around the edges. Let cookies cool on the pan for 2 minutes before transferring them to wire rack to cool completely. 

5 Decorate them or not. I prefer not. Sure, they're cuter decorated, but I don't like the added sweetness. Store completely cooled cookies in airtight container for up to two weeks.

12 December 2013

Gingerbread - The Cake


Gingerbread is one of those things that always tastes even better the next day, so it's a great thing to make when you really need to get some of the cooking done the day before. Spicy and sweet, gingerbread is often too sweet for my taste. If you're looking for a sticky and cloyingly sweet gingerbread, this isn't it.

A lemon sauce is classic with gingerbread, but I think it is too assertive for the spicy cake. I prefer a lovely Custard Sauce or a dollop of not-too-sweet whipped cream or even a mere dusting of powdered sugar. A cake worthy of the most accomplished bakers, it's also perfect for novices. Requiring no real technique or special equipment, just a big spoon and bowl, it's virtually foolproof.  

Gingerbread cookies, tasty as they are, are something I never make. I prefer my chewy Molasses Ginger Cookies. About the only rolled cookies I ever make are vanilla-scented all-butter rolled sugar cookies, which I have not yet posted. Note to self: Get on it! What are you baking?

Gingerbread

(Makes one 11x11x2-inch or 13x9x2-inch cake)

2 1/2 dip-and-sweep cups (12.5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks / 6 ounces) unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsulphured molasses
1/2 cup hot water (from the kettle, not the tap)
Fine grated zest of an orange
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk*
2 teaspoons vanilla, optional

* Or put 2 teaspoons vinegar or lemon juice in 1-cup measure and add milk to make 1 cup; stir and let stand for 5 minutes.

1 Prepare an 11x11-inch square or 13x9x2-inch pan. If you'll be serving gingerbread directly from the pan, just grease it or spray with cooking spray. If you'll be turning it out of the pan, grease and flour it. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2 In large mixing bowl (you won't need a stand mixer or even a hand mixer for this), whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and spices.

3 In 2-cup glass measure, melt the butter; add the molasses and hot water to the cup (don't bother to stir). Pour into the dry ingredients, and with large spoon mix just enough to moisten. Sprinkle orange zest over the batter.

4 In same 2-cup glass measure (no need to wash), whisk together the eggs and buttermilk. Stir into the batter in fourths, mixing well after each addition, then beat rather vigorously by hand for 1 minute.

5 Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Run a knife through the batter a few times to break up any large air bubbles. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until it is pulling away from the sides of the pan and tests done with a toothpick.

6 If serving from the pan, let cool in pan on wire rack for 15 minutes before cutting. If turning out, cool in pan on wire rack for 5 to 10 minutes, then turn out and continue cooling on wire rack. Will keep at room temperature, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap or foil, for up to 4 days. Can be frozen, double-wrapped, for a month. Thaw, wrapped, at room temperature.

PS Let's talk spice storage options. I've never been a fan of those attractive spice racks that either go on the wall or sit on the counter and require you to transfer every spice you buy into the attractive bottles that come with it. And I'm not keen on giving up counter space or drawer space to spice storage. So when we remodeled the kitchen nearly seven years ago, I hunted down just what I wanted! Here it is:


It is fabulous! The SpiceStack Flip-Down Cabinet Organizer holds 27 to 54 herb and spice bottles, depending on whether they are the tall or short ones (comes in other sizes as well). And it is so inexpensive, you can buy two if you like!  I have it sitting on the bottom shelf of the wall cabinet of what I call my baking center.

05 December 2013

Potato-Leek Soup


Potato-Leek Soup, thick and creamy, is the classic winter soup of the British Isles. A lot of people in the US (like the grocery checker who asked me what they were) have never even had leeks. Probably one of the reasons is that any time you see them mentioned anywhere, such a fuss is made about how difficult they are to clean. Well, I'm here to tell you, that's just not true.

Nobody is more concerned about cleaning their produce properly than I am, and I've discovered the easiest way to do it is to slice them up first and then wash them. Just trim off the green part and the root end. Slice the leek in half the long way. Cut each half in half the long way and slice thinly. Then put them in a salad spinner and add water, swirl them around, lift out the strainer basket, pour the dirty water out of the outer bowl; repeat. If the leeks were particularly dirty, repeat again. 

If you like a perfectly smooth, really thick and creamy soup, you can puree it with an immersion blender and use half and half or cream in place of some of the milk. But I like the little chunks I get with the potato masher. And I like to add the garnish at the last minute and watch the cheese melt into the steaming soup. 

Potato-Leek Soup

(Makes six 12-ounce servings)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups thinly sliced leeks, white part only
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 quart lower sodium chicken broth
2 pounds potatoes, chopped in 1/2-inch dice (4 cups)
2 cups milk (I use Organic Valley 2%)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 to 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dill
Garnish: coarsely shredded cheddar (about 1/2 ounce per serving) and sliced leeks


1 In 4-quart pan (I use my 5.5-quart Le Creuset French oven), saute the leek and celery in butter over low heat until soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. 

2 Add broth and potatoes, bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer until potatoes are soft, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat. 

3 Using potato masher, coarsely mash potatoes. Put back over heat. Add milk and seasonings. Taste and adjust seasoning. Ladle into bowls and garnish each bowl just as it's served (so everyone can watch the cheese melt into the soup!). 

28 November 2013

Indian Pudding - Pilgrim Comfort Food


Indian pudding may not win any beauty contests; but, like your mama said, looks aren't everything.

Indian pudding, so named because the settlers called the corn meal introduced to them by the native people "Indian meal," is one of the first American foods to be documented. The earliest versions likely had nothing more than cornmeal, milk and molasses. Though refinements have been made over the past four centuries, they've been pretty minor. I like to make it in honor of my ancestors who came over from England on the Mayflower.

Every time I make it, I wonder why I don't make it more often. It's so easy and so good (if not pretty). In fact, if you need another dessert today, this should be it! You probably have all the simple ingredients on hand. Just whisk it on the stovetop for a few minutes (or get one of the kids to do it), pour it into a casserole dish, pop it into the oven and forget about it for 2 hours while it bakes and fills your house with its homey aromas.

Indian Pudding

(Makes 6 servings)

3 cups milk (I use organic 2%)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ginger 

1/3 cup yellow corn meal
1/4 cup unsulphured molasses
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 Butter a 1.5-quart baking dish (I use a CorningWare French White 1.5-Quart Round Casserole). Preheat oven to 275 degrees. In 2-quart saucepan, heat milk just to a simmer. 

2 While oven and milk are heating, whisk together salt, baking powder and spices in a small bowl and get other ingredients ready.

3 When milk is hot, gradually whisk in the corn meal. Cook at a slow bubble, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes until slightly thickened (rather like pancake batter). Remove from heat.

4 Whisk in the molasses, sugar and butter. Whisk a little of the mixture into the egg, then add it to the pot, whisking well. Pour into buttered baking dish. Bake at 275 degrees for 2 hours. Cool for 30 minutes to an hour before serving. Top with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

21 November 2013

Gluten-Free Pull-Apart Dinner Rolls


Gluten-Free Pull-Apart Dinner Rolls that are as wonderfully fluffy as gluten-free gets! A festive meal must have dinner rolls! With so many people on gluten-free diets these days, I thought I better post these rolls today. If you're not gluten-free, here's my regular Pull-Apart Dinner Rolls recipe.

If dinner's not for a couple more hours, you've still got time to make these. They are so easy and come together quickly. If you haven't already stirred up a batch of my favorite gluten-free blend, do so just as soon as you get the ingredients. Adjustments would likely have to be made to this dinner roll recipe to work with another blend. 

Jean's Favorite Gluten-Free Blend: I use Bob's Red Mill gluten-free flours and starches. If you use a different brand, the package sizes might be different, in which case you would need to use a scale to duplicate this formula. In large bowl, whisk together until thoroughly combined: a 24-ounce package potato starch, a 22-ounce package sorghum flour and a 20-ounce package tapioca flour. Pour into air-tight container and store in refrigerator or freezer, depending upon how often you use it.

If you don't have a scale, I would encourage you to get one. It doesn't cost that much and it will really improve your baking. Since I got the OXO Good Grips 11-Pound Digital Scale, I think I've used it every single day for one thing or another. 

Why weigh? Everybody measures flour differently. Some spoon the flour into the measuring cup and level it off. Some dip the measuring cup into the flour and level it off. Try it and you'll see that the weight will be different every time. I've found the most consistent measure to be what I call a packed cup. It's sort of a dip-and-sweep with the added step of pushing the flour down a bit to eliminate any big air pockets. It's pretty much 5 ounces every time for a cup of unbleached all-purpose flour. But that isn't necessarily true of all the various gluten-free flours and starches. Since the weights of a given volume can vary substantially, weighing is the most accurate way of measuring flour.

Do you need a stand mixer? Yes, you really do need a stand mixer to make gluten-free yeast doughs. Since the doughs have no gluten and are not kneaded, they need to be beaten vigorously to develop structure. I don't think it can be done adequately by hand or with a hand mixer, at least not by me!



Gluten-Free Pull-Apart Dinner Rolls

(Makes 9)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 packed cups (15 ounces) Jean's favorite gluten-free blend
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon instant yeast
2 teaspoons xanthan gum
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup warm (105 to 115 degrees) water
2 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon cider vinegar

1 Start the dough about 2 hours before serving time. Put a square of parchment paper in an 8x8x2-inch square glass baking dish; grease parchment and sides of dish with 1/2 tablespoon of the softened butter. In bowl of stand mixer with flat beater attached, mix together dry ingredients for about 30 seconds.

2 Put water and 3 tablespoons butter in 2-cup glass measure. Microwave on high power until water is warm (105 to 115 degrees), about 2 minutes, depending on your microwave oven. Stir until all the butter is melted. If the liquid is too hot it will kill the yeast, so I always check it with my Thermapen instant-read thermometer.

3 Add it, along with the egg and vinegar, to the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until combined. Scrape down sides of bowl. Mix on medium to medium-high speed for 3 1/2 minutes to develop structure in the dough. It will be a sticky dough, somewhere between a regular bread dough and a batter.



4 Using an oiled or cooking sprayed size 12 disher/scoop or 1/3 cup measure, place 9 scoops of dough in the prepared pan. Melt 1/2 tablespoon of butter and brush the tops with it, smoothing the tops as you go. Cover loosely with a square of oiled parchment paper and let rise until doubled (I don't bother to cover the pan when I can just set it in the microwave), about 1 1/4 hours, depending on the temperature of the room. During the last 15 minutes, preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Note: While perhaps not exactly "doubled" when you're talking about gluten-free dough, the rolls will have expanded to the point of filling the pan and being nearly as high as the top of the pan and looking very puffy.

5 Bake at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes, or until well browned. Remove from oven and, keeping rolls together, turn them out of the pan and cool on wire rack a few minutes before serving. Serve promptly--gluten-free rolls never really reheat very well; but if you have leftovers you'd like to reheat the next day, wrap them in foil and heat at 350 degrees in a preheated oven.

Disclosure: Some links in this post are affiliate links. If you purchase something from Amazon through one of my links, I receive a small commission, at no additional cost to you, which I use toward the expenses of running this blog. See full disclosure on my Shop page.

14 November 2013

Classic Pot Roast - and Rocky Mountain Organic Meats Giveaway


Why am I blogging about pot roast when everyone else is talking turkey? Because my dad would not eat turkey more than once a year and other poultry, never; it had to be beef or pork for him every day. So I'm here with an alternative, you might say.
 
Besides, it's autumn, when we crave the comfort of hearty dishes like this comfort food classic. When you make this satisfying one-pot meal for people, they are transported back to their childhoods when mothers and grandmothers cooked things many people now feel they haven't the time to cook themselves.
 
Although this recipe takes time, most of it is unattended. There are no tricky techniques, but you'll find that careful browning brings out the fullest flavor of these subtly seasoned simple ingredients.
 
Though I feel an organic, mostly plant-based diet is more healthful and earth-friendly, I occasionally indulge in a little carefully sourced organic meat. Yes, it is more expensive than conventional supermarket meat, but here are some ways I've found to better afford it:
  1. By cutting our meat consumption in half. Most Americans eat more meat than is good for them, so I figure eating the good stuff in smaller portions or less frequently is better for us anyway!
  2. I don't buy many "empty calorie" snacks and convenience foods, so more of the grocery budget can go toward whole ingredients.
  3. I try very hard not to waste food and have gradually gotten to where I actually waste very little now. After all, the higher prices for organic and grass-fed and all that has been a powerful motivator! 
All Rocky Mountain Organic Meats are 100% grass-fed, grass-finished and certified organic. No hormones, antibiotics, grain, GMO feed or irradiation. RMOM is dedicated to environmentally friendly agriculture practices and, most important to me, the ethical treatment of animals. There are no feedlots where deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria thrive. The animals roam free and are treated humanely.
Details of the organic grass-fed beef chuck roast giveaway follow the recipe. 
  



Pot Roast

(Serves 6 to 8) 


1 3- to 4-pound boneless chuck roast
1 teaspoon salt, divided
3/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, quartered and separated
1 1/4 cups lower-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1 pound baby carrots (or 6 carrots, quartered)
6 medium unpeeled potatoes, quartered (or 8 small, halved)
(I used 16 tiny Yukon golds that averaged 2 ounces each)
4 stalks celery, cut in 2-inch diagonal pieces
Optional: Turnips, rutabagas, parsnips in place of some of the potatoes
(I used a 12-ounce rutabaga*, cut into 8 equal pieces)

* Rutabagas are called swedes in England and neeps, I'm told, in Scotland.
1 Heat 5.5-quart (or larger) Dutch oven; heat oil. Pat beef dry and coat beef with 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper and 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Brown well on all sides in hot oil, taking about 15 to 25 minutes; transfer to plate. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Add the onions to the pan and cook until browned, about 15 minutes. Add broth, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaf, and marjoram; bring to a boil. Put the meat back in the pan. 
2 Cover pan with foil and lid, and simmer in preheated oven for 2 hours.
  
3 Stir in 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper, and add vegetables. Cover and return to oven for 2 hours. Discard bay leaf. Remove meat and vegetables to serving platter; cover. Thicken the sauce with a little slurry of water and flour or by just reducing it (boiling it down) to your preferred thickness.  

Photo courtesy of Rocky Mountain Organic Meats

Rocky Mountain Organic Meats Giveaway 


One winner will receive a 3- to 4-pound organic grass-fed beef chuck roast from Rocky Mountain Organic Meats. All continental US residents who leave a comment (one entry per person) on this post before 11:59 pm Eastern time Wednesday November 20 will be put into a random drawing. Winner will be announced here in the comments before noon Eastern time on Thursday November 21. 
Note: Please include your email address in the body of your comment.
If I don't hear back from the winner of the random drawing by noon Eastern time Sunday November 23, another drawing will be held and a new winner selected from the original entrants (those who commented before the giveaway deadline).

Disclosure: The product for this post and giveaway was provided by Rocky Mountain Organic Meats. Content of my reviews is never dictated by whether I bought a product or it was provided. I only work with brands I love and can recommend. All opinions shared are my own. 

07 November 2013

Brussels Sprouts Salad


It's Brussels Sprouts Season, and this recipe could change your mind about Brussels sprouts! They are traditional on festive autumn and winter tables, even though so many people don't like them. Even if you think you don't like Brussels sprouts, try this recipe. When I told my husband I was making Brussels sprouts for dinner, he began groaning and begging me not to. I told him to trust me. When dinner time rolled around, that man was loving the sprouts; he even had seconds! 

Raw Brussels sprouts are completely different from cooked. So if you've tried boiled, steamed, stir fried and roasted to no avail, try uncooked. Slice them very thin. If you don't have a food processor, use your sharpest knife. They're easier to slice if you cut them in half, lengthwise through the stem end, so as to have a flat surface.

If you are vegetarian or just don't eat bacon, maybe throw in a handful of toasted nuts instead. You might need to add another splash of olive oil and wine vinegar just before serving, if the sprouts have absorbed all the dressing.

Brussels Sprouts Salad

(Makes 12 servings)

4 ounces bacon, diced (I use organic uncured bacon)
1 small shallot, minced
2 pounds Brussels sprouts, halved through the stem end and very thinly sliced
3 or 4 medium carrots, coarsely shredded
1/4 cup wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons country Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 In small skillet, cook diced bacon until very crisp; remove bacon with slotted spoon. Pour clear bacon drippings into small bowl, leaving the little brown specks in the skillet. Wipe out the skillet, return 1 tablespoon of the drippings to the skillet and cook the minced shallot until soft; remove from heat. Whisk in vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in the olive oil.

2 In 3-quart bowl, combine Brussels sprouts, carrots and bacon. Pour dressing over the salad and toss well. Taste and adjust seasoning, also adding more vinegar and oil if you think it needs it. Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.

PS: Special traditional meals also need Perfect Mashed Potatoes!

31 October 2013

Afternoon Tea Review - El Encanto by Orient-Express


Aaaahh ... Afternoon tea on a sunny terrace overlooking the Pacific. What a treat! While in southern California recently, a friend ran me up the coast to Santa Barbara where the scenic drive led us to El Encanto on a hilltop overlooking the ocean. Afternoon tea is served seven days a week either in The Lounge or on The Terrace. 

Growing up with tea as I did and being a frequent giver, as well as attender, of afternoon teas, I have some pretty high standards. Having had tea from coast to coast and in three countries, I want a certain ambience, elegance, proper service, delicious and pretty food, and properly prepared tea. Most venues get a few things right, but few can deliver on all counts. El Encanto is one of the few.

Of course, expansive ocean views along with the hotel's "casual elegance" vibe and beautiful hand-painted tea china mean they've got the ambience part down. All the staff I encountered on the property were friendly, efficient and enthusiastic. Our server brought out a wooden case of sample tins of the various loose teas so our noses could help us with our tea choices. 


With executive chef Patrice Martineau bringing his experience on three continents, including two years at The Savoy in London, the food did not disappoint. Unlike so many, he knows the difference between the more formal and lighter afternoon tea and high tea, so there are no inappropriate departures (such as soup or salad) from the traditional afternoon tea menu.


The sandwiches, adorned with edible flowers, were as delightful to eat as they were to look at. I had been rather alarmed when I saw that the tea included just three sandwiches, but these sandwiches were more substantial than usual. I'm not a fan of smoked salmon, so the chef made a lovely ham sandwich in its stead. The open-faced cucumber sandwich was a thing of beauty. And the savory egg salad with snipped chives and French cornichons was outstanding.


The scones, served with clotted cream and house-made jam, were excellent. Though I don't usually eat the pastries at afternoon tea, I couldn't resist trying just a few bites from the jewel-box assortment of diminutive desserts. Superb! Oh, nearly forgot to mention the perfect, not overly sweet Bellini, a nod to Orient-Express, I presume.    


For reservations, call El Encanto at 805-845-5800. El Encanto is 97 miles from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and 90 miles from Burbank Bob Hope Airport (BUR). 

For tea at home, see: How to Make a Proper Cup of Tea and Tea and Scones. Look under Teatime on my Recipes index page for other teatime recipes. 

Disclosure: Though I attended the afternoon tea as a guest of El Encanto, I assure you that does not alter my opinions or influence my review.  

19 October 2013

Kokoskakor - Swedish Coconut Cookies


I've always made coconut macaroons, which use only the egg whites, so I was intrigued by this classic Swedish flourless cookie that uses whole eggs.  Flourless, it is a naturally gluten-free cookie.

I first learned of kokoskakor at one of my favorite food blogs, Five Euro Food. Of course, as is my wont, I made a couple of minor changes before even trying the original! Though I added a pinch of salt and a dash of vanilla, you might want to leave them out in the interests of being "authentic."

Charles, the fine cook behind Five Euro Food, is British by birth, married to a Swedish woman, currently living in France and in the process of moving to Sweden as we speak. So, henceforth, I shall defer to Charles on all things Swedish since that's definitely out of my bailiwick!

Think I'll make these instead of macaroons from now on. No more having a little dish of egg yolks in the fridge nagging me to make something out of them soon so they won't go to waste!

Tell me (in the comments), what is the classic cookie of your culture? One of mine is Hazelnut Shortbread, which is also good half-dipped in chocolate.

Kokoskakor - Swedish Coconut Cookies

(Makes 24)

Adapted from the recipe at Five Euro Food

4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter
2 cups unsweetened grated coconut
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar (next time I'll use just 1/3 cup)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch salt  
Note: See below for chocolate-dipped* option.
1 Line baking sheet with parchment paper. (Love my heavy-duty half-sheet pan!) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In 2-quart glass bowl (I use a 2-quart glass measure) in microwave, melt the butter. With a fork, stir in the coconut until all is moistened with the butter.
2 In 1-quart bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt. Stir into coconut until well combined.

3 Using a #60 (1/2 ounce / 1 tablespoon) scoop, drop scoops of dough about 2 inches apart onto prepared baking sheet. With your fingers, form them into a rough cone shape, pinching them to a little point on top. Bake at 350 degrees for about 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden.


* Chocolate-Dipping Option: In heatproof glass bowl set over simmering water, melt 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips with 1/4 teaspoon neutral oil, stirring occasionally. Dip bottoms of cooled cookies, place on waxed paper and chill for about 45 minutes.
4 Store cookies in single layer in airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. 

17 October 2013

Gluten-Free Angel Food Cake


More of my friends are going gluten-free, so I've been stepping up my gluten-free recipe development. One gluten-free friend just handed me an angel food cake pan she'd been given and asked me to figure out what she can do with it, so this angel food cake is bigger than my regular Angel Food Cake that I make in a loaf pan.

And, of course, that gave me an excuse to use my new Cuisinart stand mixer! In fact, it was the first time I used it with the wire whip. You could also make it with a hand mixer. I can't believe anyone ever made it by hand, but angel food cake predates even hand-cranked egg beaters.   

Berries and Custard Sauce - Crème Anglaise go beautifully with angel food cake, and custard sauce is a perfect way to make use of 7 of the leftover egg yolks. How do you like to serve angel food cake?

   
Gluten-Free Angel Food Cake

(Makes one 9- or 10-inch cake)


1 packed cup (5.5 ounces) gluten-free blend*
3/4 packed cup unsifted powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups (11 or 12 large) egg whites, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup sugar

Note: Separate the eggs cold. Cover and refrigerate the yolks for another use; let the whites stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.



1 Place oven rack in lowest position (I didn't bother--no problem), and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9- or 10-inch angel food tube pan (2-piece with "legs") by simply making sure it is completely grease-free. Also, make sure your mixing bowl and wire whip (or beaters) are squeaky clean.

2 Using two small bowls, sift together gluten-free blend* and powdered sugar three or four times. If you have a food processor, just process for 30 seconds instead of sifting.


*Gluten-Free Blend: I use Bob's Red Mill gluten-free flours and starches. If you use a different brand, the package sizes might be different, in which case you would need to use a scale to duplicate this formula. 

In large bowl, whisk together until thoroughly combined: a 24-ounce package potato starch, a 22-ounce package sorghum flour and a 20-ounce package tapioca flour. Pour into air-tight container and store in refrigerator or freezer, depending upon how often you use it.

3 In mixer bowl with wire whip in place, starting on speed 1 and gradually going up to speed 6, beat together the egg whites, cream of tartar, salt and vanilla until egg whites have thickened and increased in volume (mixture looks like a bowl of suds!) and are nearly at soft peaks stage.

4 On speed 8 gradually beat in sugar, a tablespoon at a time, until egg whites are stiff enough to hold up in soft peaks but are still glossy and moist. Watching carefully, continue beating until whites just reach stiff peaks but are not dry.

5 Sift about 1/3 of flour mixture over egg whites and fold in lightly, with a rubber spatula, just until incorporated. Repeat two times.

6 Spoon batter into pan and smooth the top. Gently make a few knife cuts through the batter to break up any large air bubbles.

7 Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 to 45 minutes, or until it is well browned and springs back when lightly touched. Invert pan; let stand upside down as it cools, about an hour. Remove cake from pan.



 

10 October 2013

Classic White Sandwich Bread - Stand Mixer Method


One of the first things I made with my new Cuisinart SM-55 stand mixer was my stand-mixer adaptation of my strictly by-hand Classic White Sandwich Bread. Though I've always loved kneading bread (it is so therapeutic!), I have a feeling I'm going to be using the Cuisinart a lot more often than my bare hands! (my review of the Cuisinart SM-55)

Bread--all kinds of bread--is one of my favorite comfort foods. I call this white bread Classic because it's the bread you should master first (unless you're gluten-free, of course) even if you prefer whole-grain bread. It's perfect for any kind of sandwich, including tea sandwiches. Once you've got it down, you can start experimenting with add-ins.

When I started using instant yeast for no-knead breads, I converted all my active dry yeast recipes for it so that I'd only have to keep one kind of yeast on hand. And, just to keep life simple, I keep just one kind of wheat flour on hand, organic unbleached all-purpose. (Of course, half my freezer space is taken up with a vast array of gluten-free flours and starches!)

People have a tendency to make a way bigger deal out of making bread than it needs to be! Whether it's taking the temperature of the dough or calculating hydration percentages, sure, have fun with it if it interests you; if not, don't let all that keep you from making homemade bread. 

Do leave a comment and tell me about your favorite method or best tip, or ask a question. Do you use a bread machine? That's the one thing I haven't tried.


Classic White Sandwich Bread

(Makes 4 loaves)

This recipe can easily be halved, but make all four loaves and freeze or give away what you can't use!

10 packed cups (50 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon instant yeast
4 cups milk or water
4 tablespoons unsalted butter or extra virgin olive oil


1 In the mixer bowl, whisk together 4 cups flour, sugar, salt and instant yeast. Attach the flat beater and mixer bowl to the mixer. Heat the milk or water and butter or oil until quite warm, about 120 degrees. On speed 2, mix in the warm liquid until thoroughly mixed. Mix in 4 cups flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until a dough forms. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes. 

Or do the initial mixing of the dough by hand. In the mixer bowl, stir together 4 cups flour, sugar, salt and instant yeast. Heat the milk or water and butter or oil until very warm, about 120 degrees. Stir the warm liquid into the flour until thoroughly combined. Stir in 4 cups flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until a dough forms. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes.    


2 Remove the flat beater and attach the dough hook. On speed 2, add about 1 cup flour until dough forms a smooth ball that cleans the bowl. Continue kneading for 2 minutes, adding flour (from the remaining 1 cup) just 1 tablespoon at a time as needed to keep the dough from sticking to the bowl. Set the timer for 4 minutes and knead the dough on speed 3.

3 Clean out the mixer bowl or use another 5.5-quart container (preferably with straight sides). Lightly oil the bowl and put the ball of dough in it, turning dough to oil all sides, cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm, draft-free place for about 1 to 2 hours, or until doubled.


Note: This time I divided the dough and did the first rise in two containers, one a 2.5-quart bowl and the other a 2-quart Pyrex measure (pictured below), as I wanted to use my mixer bowl for something else. Note to self: An extra mixer bowl would come in handy!


4 Lightly oil four 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-by-2 1/2-inch loaf pans, also known as 1-pound loaf pans (another 1-pound loaf pan). Turn risen dough out onto lightly floured (still from that remaining 1 cup) surface, flattening gently to break up any large bubbles. Divide* dough into two equal pieces, then each of those into two equal pieces. Work with one piece at a time, keeping the others covered. Press each piece into a 9-by-12-inch rectangle. Fold in short ends of dough until piece is about 6 inches long. Roll from one rough edge, pinch seam to seal and roll gently to form a tight log the length of pan. Place seam-side down in prepared pans and press dough into pans so that it reaches sides, ends and corners.


* I'm a rather precise person, so I always use my OXO Good Grips 11-Pound Digital Scale to divide the dough precisely, making sure all my loaves and rolls are the same size.

5 Cover loaves loosely with oiled plastic wrap and let rise for about 1 hour, or until dough rises just above top of pans and springs back just a little when lightly poked with a floured finger. 


If your house is cool and you want to help things along, heat oven to 200 degrees, allow to heat for 2 minutes, turn off oven and put dough in to rise. When baking just two loaves, I sometimes put the pans and a mug of hot water under an 11-by-17-inch baking sheet held up by a 1-pound can in each corner and covered with a towel (see above). Unless I'm in a hurry for some reason, I prefer to let the dough rise slowly; that's when flavor is developed.

6 During the last 20 minutes, heat oven to 450 degrees (taking the rising loaves out first!). You don't have to do it--I don't always--but sometimes I like to score the top of the loaves just before putting them in the oven; with a very sharp small knife, cut a not more than 1/4-inch deep line down the middle of the dough. 



7 Put loaves in oven and reduce heat to 375 degrees. Bake at 375 degrees for about 35 to 40 minutes or until loaves are golden brown, shrink from sides of pans, and bottoms of loaves sound hollow if tapped (internal temperature 200 degrees on instant read thermometer). Remove immediately from pans and let cool on wire rack for 1 hour. Wrap well as soon as bread has cooled thoroughly. Store at room temperature or freeze in zipper freezer bags.
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