Monday, October 31, 2011

Bread of the Week: Not-So-Plain White Bread

This week I am out of town so I baked ahead. I picked a white bread recipe because it's easy to make sandwiches with.

White bread has a bad reputation for being plain and flabby. It's not plain at all! All the flavor of the bread comes from the milk, butter and egg. Sounds pretty delicious to me already. Add a few seeds on top if you want to fancy it up.

The slow fermentation in this recipe from The Bread Baker's Apprentice makes it flavorful and oh-so-soft. It takes a sponge that ferments for two hours then two rises. After the first rise, I put it in the fridge overnight instead of on the counter for an hour, because I was running out of time that night. It proofed nicely and was ready to be baked in the morning.

My husband thinks it tastes like potato bread, which is his preferred sandwich bread. Not too bad for plain white bread. I hope he's making good use of it while I'm gone!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Impromptu Pizza

This pizza recipe is really easy. I woke up this morning thinking, it'd be nice to have some pizza but can we fit it into our schedule today? Then I was encouraged by the ingredient list for the pizza dough--only five ingredients! I can make it before church! I mixed all the ingredients together, kneaded the dough in our stand mixer, and let it rise while we were at church. When we got back, the fun began!

Basic Pizza Dough from The Kitchen Bible
modified with what I had on hand
3 2/3 cups bread flour
4 1/2 tsp dry active yeast
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups tepid water
2 tbsp olive oil

Combine flour, yeast and salt. Mix until combined. Add water and oil and mix until a ball forms. Knead for 6 minutes with dough hook, while adding more flour until the bottom stops sticking to the bowl. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic. Let it rise until doubled. This is a soft and sticky dough. You will need to dust it and your hands with flour when handling it.

Once we got back, I punched down the dough and divided them into two boules. My pizza tossing still needs work, but I managed to stretched to dough out without rolling or breaking the dough.

The sauce is also simple. But I found the pizzas came out too saucy. Next time I will save half of the sauce.

Simple Pizza Sauce
15oz tomato suace
3 oz tomato paste
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried basil
dash of onion powder
dash of garlic flakes
dash of ground pepper

Mix ingredients in a medium size saucepan on medium heat. Bring to a boil and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.

Olives are only allowed on half of the pizza
Top the pizzas with your favorite ingredients! We made a Hawaiian one with ham, pineapple, black olives, and shredded cheddar and mozzarella cheese.

Bake for 18-20 minutes at 400 degrees until cheese is bubbly and crust is golden brown.

The second pizza we topped with spinach, mushrooms, fresh mozzarella, and crumbled feta.

Bill says, "Mmm, cheesy goodness."
We love having pizzas for lunch or dinner! They're fun and tasty. With some preparation, we had two pizzas within an hour. Plenty of leftovers for the coming week. Needless to say I have pizza recipe books on my wishlist. Pizza stone has also been recommended to us. Perhaps I will need to get one.

How do you like to top your pizzas?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Flashback: Halloween Fun!

Lately I've been thinking about our time in Alaska a lot. There were a lot of reasons to reminisce, not in the least is that it's the place I started baking with frequency. I was very inspired by the surrounding nature and the Alaskan spirit of living off the land. I started having ideas about raising chickens to harvest eggs--a dream not quite realized. Yet we learned how to pick wild blueberries, fish for salmon and halibut, and attempted in growing a garden. There will be plenty more times to tell the stories of our adventures. For now I will just recall our last Halloween. But I must post a picture of my baby musk oxen first because it snowed yesterday and that reminded me of them.
At The Musk Ox Farm in Palmer, Alaska
Last Halloween was about the fourth time I've made apple pie from scratch. My husband grew up eating pies made from scratch and it was hard to meet the expectations. But I gladly took on the challenge. The filling was kind of runny and the crust still needed better texture and shape. I have much to learn!

However it was fun. I was happy Bill was able to be home from work (he used to work two-three weeks in the arctic tundra every month). We carved a pumpkin together for the first time. My cats were very curious about it.
Introducing Reeses!
This year we're going to a Halloween party that my sister-in-law is throwing in Boston. We're going to bring some Reeses Pieces cookies (the candy, not the cat).

Happy Halloween weekend everyone!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Chicken for Dinner

First of all, happy birthday to my sister! We live in different states, so I can't help her celebrate today, but I'm thinking of her. I'm really looking forward to seeing her in December. We sent our well-wishes and a present via snailmail--a buffalo tallow soap from Yellowstone we obtained during our roadtrip this year. Don't worry, she already received it so I'm not spoiling the surprise.

Wild buffalo in Yellowstone National Park
We had a friend over tonight for dinner before joining him to a Bible study. I wasn't sure what he likes, but chicken sounded like a safe choice. I made Chicken Cacciatore from The Kitchen Bible, modified with what I had on hand and farmer's market cherry tomatoes.This recipe stood out from the other chicken recipes because it is served with polenta, which adds some variety to my usual rice or pasta or potatoes. The best part, it takes less than an hour to make!

Chicken Cacciatore with polenta, asparagus, and a slice of pumpkin

Chicken Cacciatore
makes 4 servings

4 chicken legs
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, sliced
3/4 dry white wine
15 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/2 chicken bouillon added to 1 cup of boiling water
7 oz white mushrooms, sliced
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp dried rosemary, chopped
1 tsp rubbed sage
2 tbsp canned black olives, drained

Season chicken with salt and pepper, and cook chicken with 1 tbsp olive oil until browned in a large casserole over medium-high heat, about 4 minutes. Remember to turn your chicken! Transfer to a plate. Pour the fat out of the pan.

Stir the onion and garlic in the remaining olive oil over medium-low heat, until softened. Stir in the wine and boil for 1 minute, while scraping up the bottom of the pan. Stir in the three-quarters of the tomatoes, stock from chicken bouillon, three-quarters of the mushrooms, celery, tomato paste, rosemary, and sage, and bring to a simmer.

Return chicken to pan and cover. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add the olives and the rest of the tomatoes and mushrooms and simmer for 10 more minutes with the lid off. Serve with polenta to soak up the juices.

FYI, I'm not that strict about the amount of ingredients when it comes to cooking. I used worry about exactly how big is a medium onion or how much salt to sprinkle. I don't anymore. These measurements just serve as a guide.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Midweek Pick-me-up

I don't know why it took me so long to try a gingersnaps recipe. Bill and I both like eating them and have bought them from the store on many road-trips. Perhaps it's the thought of having to buy molasses. What will I do with a bottle of molasses besides making gingersnap cookies? I think about shortening in the same way, but at least shortening can be substituted without losing much of the flavor.

Well, I'm glad I tried! These gingersnap cookies shared on are delicious and the cinnamon sugar was a nice touch (I did substitute the shortening with butter). The best part...the cookies came out perfectly round!

Looks like a good treat for Santa

As these are so well-received, that bottle of molasses will get used up pretty soon!

Last time I mentioned we made pumpkin cheesecake using a whole sugar pumpkin. The recipe is from There was some leftover filling so I decided I would make mini cheesecakes for a midweek dessert.

I mashed the gingersnap cookies in a baggie, mixed it with some butter, and pressed the mixture onto the bottom of two ramekins lined with parchment paper. Poured in my filling and baked them the same way as the cheesecake.

They didn't turn out exactly how I envisioned since I don't have mini tart pans (next time I will grease the bottom of the parchment paper). But, hey, food doesn't have to look perfect to be tasty, right?

Saving half for dinner
I have another sugar pumpkin! What to do next...?

Monday, October 24, 2011

'Tis Pumpkin Season!

The luncheon this weekend was a great success. The pumpkin cheesecake was a hit and the pumpkin gorgonzola tart was "good enough to sell"! Too bad in all the frenzy, I forgot to take pictures. So I will include a picture of the pumpkin from which we took a chunk out for the tart...the "front"side is still carvable though!

I also got two sugar pumpkins. Making a pie or cheesecake from a sugar pumpkin is terribly easy. I'm glad I decided to try it. The flavor is amazing. As this was my first time making a cheesecake, I had some leftover filling, perfect for mini-cheesecakes in the middle of the week. I will have to remember to take pictures when I make those.

The pumpkin gorgonzola tart was a modified version of Squash and Gorgonzola Tart from The Kitchen Bible.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
8 tbsp cold butter, diced
1/4 tsp salt
4 tbsp iced water, as needed
1 lb pumpkin, peeled and seeds removed
olive oil, as needed
14 oz baby spinach
2 large eggs, plus 1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/8 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp rubbed sage
4 oz Gorgonzola, crumbled

Cut butter in flour and salt mixture until it resembles corn meal. Add water until all the flour is moistened and form it into a thick disk. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Roll it out for a 8 inch tart pan (I used a pie pan). Chill for 30 more minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with baking beans or rice. Bake about 15 minutes. Lift off the parchment paper and bake for 10 minutes more.

Slice the pumpkin into thick slices and spread on a baking sheet. Toss with 1 tbsp oil. Bake for 30 minutes, or until tender. Cook the spinach and 2 tbsp olive oil in covered saucepan for about 4 minutes, until wilted. Drain and let cool. Whisk the eggs, egg yolk, cream, Parmesan, and nutmeg together and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Sprinkle salt and sage on pumpkin slices. Squeeze the spinach dry. Spread it in the pastry shell, and top with the pumpkin and Gorgonzola. Pour in the custard. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the custard is set. Cover with foil if top is too brown. Let cool for 10 minutes. Serve hot.

I can't wait to have our friends over for lunch again!