April 19th, 2015

apricot-sorghum glazed ham, cornbread with the works

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Ham. Sorghum. Cornmeal. A trio of decidedly Southern ingredients are at the heart of today’s post, in dishes designed to feed a crowd. It is rare that I have the occasion to bake a big ham, or a 12″ by 20″ pan of cornbread, but this month’s potluck gathering, held in partnership with Dirty Pages, was made for that.

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I’ve told you a little bit about this interactive art show: portraits of Nashville women and their beloved “dirty page” recipes that give a glimpse into their cooking lives.

The exhibit has been up since March 19th. Its organizers, local food writers and enthusiasts Jennifer Justus, Erin Byers Murray, and Cindy Wall wanted to do something grand, fun and fitting for the closing of this community-minded show. Partnering with my group for an expanded community potluck was brilliant.

Our April potluck, this time dubbed Dirty Pages+Third Thursday, gathered last week at our Nashville Farmers Market. More than 60 people arrived, many bearing their own favorite dirty page dish. (also present was a photographer/essayist for the New York Times. We’ll be looking for the story over Mother’s Day weekend!)

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My featured Dirty Page recipe, Leola’s Cornbread, was my inspiration. Over the many years, I have respected this recipe for its versatility–and forgiving nature. Even though I’ve altered some aspects of the original, using much less sugar, and all butter instead of margarine–I have found that the ratios of cornmeal to flour to baking powder to wet ingredients to be spot-on. It always works, and tastes delicious.

I’ve seen too many cornbread recipes where there’s more flour than cornmeal, which makes no sense to me!

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This batch has it all. Into the batter, I fold generous amounts of whole kernel corn, chopped jalapenos, green onions, and shredded sharp cheddar–which it readily accepts.

The whole shebang comes together quickly–mixed by hand in a large bowl. I like that part too.

Baking is a breeze. In less than 30 minutes, what emerges is a golden green-flecked slab, enriched with cheese, sparked with heat.

Accommodating, adaptable, this recipe can be cut in half for a smaller needs, baked in an ordinary 9″x13″ casserole. From my big pan, I was able to get 60 small squares, just right for our potluck crowd.

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Now, onto the prize, this ham. Here are some tips for baking a sumptuous one:

When carving away the hide and excess fat, I always leave a layer, which I gently score in crisscross fashion. The fat is essential for insuring juicy meat.

In spicing, I go old school, inserting whole cloves at each intersection.

Hams love fruit and sweet, with a little pungency. In the past, I’ve coated hams in apricot mustard, or brown sugar mixed with brown mustard and spices, or cane syrup-pecan glaze.

Today’s glaze is made with apricot preserves (although peach would be terrific too–and more Southern. I happened to have apricot on hand.) melted with coarse grain mustard and sorghum.
I love the dark mineral sweetness of sorghum; it adds compelling depth to the glaze. Molasses works too, although I find it can be overpowering. Use a little less, if you must substitute.

If I’m baking a half ham (as it usually is sold in shank and butt portions) I rub a small amount of the glaze onto it before baking. For the first hour of baking, I place the ham inverted–the pink meat side down, bone end straight up, so that the scored fat on all sides is exposed. It makes for more even roasting, and juicier meat.

After an hour, I remove the ham from the oven. I slather it with the remaining glaze, and set it upright in the roasting pan to finish. During that last 30 minutes, the glaze will become shiny and charred, imparting its layered sweetness and piquancy.

Leftovers? With a big ham, that’s always the case. A ham bone is indispensable for certain soups, or beans. Here are some excellent ideas and recipes for using up that tasty ham.

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APRICOT-SORGHUM GLAZED BAKED HAM
6-8 pound bone-in sugar cured ham (shank or butt portion)
whole cloves (24 or so)
1/2 cup apricot preserves (peach preserves work splendidly too)
1/2 cup coarse grain mustard
1/3 cup sorghum (you may substitute cane syrup, or molasses–use only 1/4 cup molasses)
1 cup water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Trim the ham, removing tough outer hide pieces and any excess fat. Leave a thin layer of fat to help seal in the juices of the meat. Score the ham in crisscross fashion, cutting into, but not all the way through, that thin layer of fat. Place a clove at each intersection and place into a roasting pan.

Place a saucepan on low heat. Add the apricot preserves, coarse grain mustard, and sorghum. Stir together as the mixture warms. It will become “glazy.” Remove from heat.

Lightly brush the glaze over the ham–reserving most of the glaze for later. Pour the water into the bottom of the baking pan.

Place into the oven and bake uncovered, allowing 15 minutes per pound. (An 8 pound ham requires 2 hours bake time.)

After the ham is 75% done (after one and a half hours for the 8 pounder!) liberally coat the ham with the remaining glaze. Cook for another 30 minutes. The glaze with bubble and brown on the ham.

Allow the meat to rest at least 15 minutes before carving. The ham can be baked in advance and kept warm. It is also delicious served room temperature.

Serves 15-20

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LEOLA’S INSPIRATION: CORNBREAD WITH THE WORKS
3 cups cornmeal
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
4 eggs
3 cups milk
1 pound butter, melted and slightly cooled
2 cups corn kernels (can use frozen or fresh)
2 jalapenos, chopped (add their seeds for extra heat)
6 green onions, chopped
12 ounces shredded sharp cheddar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Grease a large baking dish (like a hotel pan, 12″ by 20″) or two 9″ by 13″ baking dishes.
Place all of the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Whisk until the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt are blended.

Break the eggs into a separate bowl and lightly beat. Pour in the milk and the melted butter. Stir well.

Make a well in the dry ingredients. Pour in the wet ingredients and stir just until incorporated. Do not overmix–it will toughen the bread.
Fold in the corn, jalapenos, green onions and sharp cheddar.
Pour into the prepared baking dish(es)
Place onto the middle rack of the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes. Rotate the pan(s) after 15 minutes.
Remove and allow to cool for 10 minutes before cutting into squares.

Serves a crowd! (makes 48-60 squares)

Dirty Pages Poster

Posted in Breads, Casseroles, Meats/Poultry, Recipes | 11 Comments »




December 31st, 2014

Lobster Rolls, Gratitude, and Farewell 2014

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I haven’t gone out for New Year’s Eve–not for many years now. It’s become tradition for friends to come to our place. We cook something extraordinary, something de luxe; then we feast, tell stories, play games, reflect on the year, our moments of gratitude, and talk about what might be in store in the months to come.

Lobster has often figured into the mix.

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For many NYEs, we’d have a community lobster pot. I’d make a spicy-winey poaching bath, and everyone would bring their own lobster tails, ready to take the savory plunge. We’d serve that luscious meat with lemon butter as part of a 4 course seated dinner. It’s very fun, very delicious,

also very laborious.

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So we changed things up.

Now everyone brings an appetizer or two to share. The buffet table fills up quickly with delectables such as Vietnamese Summer Rolls, Fig-filled Brie in Puff Pastry, Bibb Lettuce Cups with grapefruit and avocado, “Cowboy Caviar” (gotta start eating those black-eyed peas!) and baby crabcakes with citrus remoulade.

This year, lobster is part of the scenario, in a more casual–yet still luxurious, way. I decided to make little lobster rolls—of the buttery yeasty Parker House type– flecked with sea salt, then stuffed with lobster salad. I make the same spicy-winey bath to cook them–recipe to follow–so that if you take the notion to just eat lots of poached lobster and drawn butter–well, here ya go.

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For the salad, the meat is lightly dressed. You don’t want to mask that sweet lobster taste. Lemon, green onion, red bell pepper, celery, and a little Sriracha lend it the right crunch and zing.

Notes about the Parker House style rolls: My recipe uses sourdough starter along with a boost of dry active yeast. If you don’t have the starter, no worries. Use 2 packages of yeast, also increasing the amount of flour (add 2 cups) and milk (2 cups) I also use honey instead of sugar.

Recipes for this kind of roll abound on the webs. The main thing to remember about these rolls—which are buttery and rich, yet light as the ethers—is that milk, butter, and an egg are key to making the dough supple and elastic.

If you don’t have time to make the rolls, Cooking Light offers an easy-peasy solution here:
Lobster Roll recipe, using hot dog buns

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LOBSTER SALAD
Spicy-Winey Bath: (for 6 Lobster tails)
6 cups water
2 cups White Wine
1 Lemon, cut in half
2 Celery Ribs and leaves, chopped
1 small Onion, quartered
2 cloves Garlic
1 Bay Leaf
2 teaspoons Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon Celery Seed
1/2 teaspoon Mustard Seed
1/2 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes

Place all these ingredients into a large covered stockpot and simmer until onions are softened–about 25 minutes. (this will accommodate up 6-8 lobster tails)

Prepare the lobster tails for their bath: Using kitchen shears, cut up the center of the thin cartilage underside of the tail and snip off the sundry flippers. Gently crack the base of the tail backwards to make it easier to remove meat after poaching. Rinse well.

Plunge the lobster into the gently rolling bath and poach for five-seven minutes. Remove the now bright orange-red tails from the bath. Allow to cool.

Remove the cooked meat. Discard the shells.

The Lobster Salad:
2-3 ribs of celery, finely chopped
3-4 green onions, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, minced
1/2 cup good mayonnaise (such as Hellman’s or Duke’s)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons Sriracha hot sauce
Cooked lobster tail meat, cut or pulled into bite-sized pieces

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SOURDOUGH PARKER HOUSE ROLLS
1 cup “fed” sourdough starter mixed with 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1 cup water
1 cup lowfat milk
1/2 pound butter, divided
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 package dry active yeast
1 egg
4 cups all-purpose flour

The night before: mix your starter in a bowl with flour and water. Stir well. Cover with plastic and leave at room temperature for an hour. Then refrigerate.

Ready to make the rolls:
Remove the sourdough mixture from the refrigerator.

Warm the milk on low heat, add 1/4 pound (one stick) butter, then the honey and salt. Stir until the butter is melted. Remove from heat. When the mixture feels tepid, stir in the package of dry active yeast.

Pour into a large mixing bowl. Add the sourdough mixture.

Using a dough hook, begin to mix, adding the egg, and the flour, a cup at a time.
Knead until the dough comes together into soft elastic mass. Cover and allow the dough to double in size—about 1 1/2 hours.

Melt the remaining 1/4 pound butter in a saucepan set on low heat.

When dough is doubled in size, turn it out onto the work counter that has been dusted with flour. Divide the dough ball in half, setting one piece aside.

Brush baking sheets with butter. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Roll out the dough into a rectangle, about 1/2 inch thick. Brush with melted butter and cut into squares. You should get 16-20 pieces. Roll each piece around your finger and place onto the buttered baking sheet. Leave 1/2 inch space between each roll.

Brush their tops with melted butter and sprinkle with coarse sea salt.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, until rolls are light and golden. Cool on a rack before slicing and stuffing with lobster salad (and a piece of leaf lettuce, if you like.)

TWO GRATITUDE MOMENTS FROM 2014

This year has been rich and full of wonder. The launching of my cookbook, Third Thursday Community Potluck, features high on my list, to be sure. I am so pleased with the result. The book is beautiful. I couldn’t have imagined anything finer. I am so grateful for this accomplishment, at this stage of my life.

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I am also so grateful for all of the support I’ve received from family and friends for this effort. Here are three blogging friends who came to my book signing in the Washington DC area last month. We knew one another from our blogs, but this was the first time that we met in person. Big hugs to Tracy of Amuse-Bouche for Two, Nichole of And Baby Cakes Three, and Domenica of Domenica Cooks and American Food Roots. Y’all rock! The connections that we make through our blogging, sharing our mutual love of food and community, is what it’s all about.

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Last, and best is grandson Zachary. Bill and I, aka Pops and Nanaroo, enjoyed a wonderful Christmas visit with him. The boy loves food! And he knows that nothing compares to licking the beater.

Happy New Year, Everyone. All best wishes for love peace health and prosperity in 2015.

Nancy

Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Breads, Fish/Seafood, Recipes, Sandwiches | 22 Comments »




July 21st, 2014

BIG Tomato Suppertime

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I’m not one to boast, but the scores (hordes, legions, truckloads) of plump, ripe, succulent tomatoes that I’ve been picking from my little garden have afforded me bragging rights.

Never–and I really mean NEVER–have I had such success.

Biggest Juiciest Tomatoes EVER!

Check it out—this handful is more the norm than the anomaly.

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My friend Kimmie, an avid gardener who follows the Farmers’ Almanac, tells me that it is because I planted them in alignment with the full moon.

I checked back on the calendar, and why, yes, I did. Unintentionally.

Bill speculated that it is because our winter was extra cold, killing off the destructive insect larvae and/or fungus-mold-rot starters hidden in the soil.

I figured the damp spring got our plants off to a terrific start in making blooms, and now that the hot summer days are here, they are bearing beauteous fruits.

And, maybe, it was just time.

Bill’s dad, who was a dedicated farmer by profession, always said you could count on 1 great growing year in 7. Maybe this is that year.

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Whatever the case—and I suspect it is a serendipitous confluence of all these factors—I am the happy harvester of Cherokee Purples, Lemon Boys, Sun Golds, Black Krim, Amish Paste, Bradleys, German Pinks, Teardrops, and one other heirloom variety whose clever name escapes me.

We’ve been eating them all ways—caprese, savory tart, pasta sauce, on sturdy bread swiped with mayo—but this salad, a featured recipe in my cookbook, has been favored both at the dinner table, and in my cooking demonstrations.

Cornbread Panzanella is a Southern take on the much loved Italian bread salad. The season’s bounty of ripe sweet tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, and sharp red onion are at the heart of each version. But, instead of using hunks of leftover, stale rustic bread, you make cornbread croutons. (Hint: the cornbread is the only part of this dish that requires turning on the oven. Everything else is either chopped or whisked!)

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Instead of tossing the vegetables and bread cubes in a red wine vinaigrette, you make a tangy buttermilk ranch to coat the mixture.

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It works beautifully.

After chopping the tomatoes, you put the chunks into a bowl and sprinkle them with salt to coax out their juices. When you toss the mixture with the herbed buttermilk ranch,(enlivened with lemon, flat leaf parsley and scallions) those juices meld with the dressing, creating a luscious rose-tinged sauce.

That soaks into the cornbread croutons, which you’ve toasted to a toothsome crunch. There’s a marvelous combination of textures and tastes.

You could add bits of bacon or pancetta, shavings of parmegianno-reggiano, or a good sharp white cheddar, if you wanted to make it “meatier.” But this big tomato salad makes satisfying summer meal, just as it is. The bread salad theme can be expansive: this BLT version from Cooking Light is mighty tempting.

PS
It has been fruitful outside the garden too–busy promoting the Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook. It’s been getting great reviews, I am happy to report, and I’ve been compiling the blogpost and articles here. I appreciate everyone’s kind words and support.

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CORNBREAD PANZANELLA

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CORNBREAD CROUTONS
1 1?2 cups cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 large eggs
1?2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a baking sheet.
In a large bowl whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Whisk in the eggs, melted butter, and milk until well incorporated. Do not overbeat. Pour onto the baking sheet.
Bake until set—golden brown—about 20 minutes.
Allow to cool. Cut into cubes and spread out onto a lightly oiled baking sheet.
Toast for about 15 minutes. Allow to cool.

Makes 2 cups.

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HERBED BUTTERMILK RANCH DRESSING
1?2 cup buttermilk
1?2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 green onions, chopped finely, tops included
1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1?2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1?4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of black pepper

In a medium bowl combine the buttermilk, mayonnaise, lemon juice, green onions, parsley, garlic, salt, and pepper. Whisk until smooth and creamy. Taste for seasonings and adjust. This will keep, refrigerated, for a week.

Makes 1 generous cup.

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PANZANELLA
1 1?2 cups diced Bradley tomatoes
1?2 cup peeled, seeded, and cubed cucumbers
1?2 cup sliced red onion
1?2 cup chopped fresh basil
Salt and black pepper to taste

In a large bowl combine the tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, basil, salt, and pepper. Add 2 cups of cornbread croutons. Pour the Real Ranch Dressing over the croutons and toss well. Serve immediately.

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Posted in Breads, Recipes, Salads, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 20 Comments »




March 24th, 2014

Fresh Starts: Sourdough and Spring

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It is officially Spring, and I feel certain that most of you feel the same as I do—Bring It!

This winter has felt long. Despite the emergence of hyacinths, daffodils, and profuse blooms on my weeping cherry tree, it still threatens brief yet chilling returns. Nonetheless, I am pressing on. Days grow longer, and will grow warmer.

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For me, Spring is a time for ambitious things: cleaning the house, clearing the yard, churning the earth, planting. This opens the way for all fresh starts.

To this (ever-growing) list I have added a baking challenge.

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I have long been curious about sourdough starter: how it works, how it needs to be maintained, what its possibilities are with breads, rolls, cakes and such. However, I’ve resisted baking with it in the past. On numerous occasions, friends have offered me a scoop of their starter, but I’ve said, “No, thanks.” It felt like too much of a commitment–one that I didn’t think I could honor over the long haul. If properly fed, stored, and used, sourdough starters can last for years and years.

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My friends at Bella Nashville make remarkable wood-fired sourdough breads and pizzas using a starter that can be traced back a millennium to Napoli Italy. This one, which I purchased from King Arthur Flour, is the descendant of one that began in pre-Revolutionary War New England.

A couple of thoughts: because the starter relies on your flour, your water, your environment—your bread will taste different than someone’s in New England or Santa Fe New Mexico. It’s personal.

There’s also mounting evidence that bread baked with starter has greatly reduced gluten. It is more digestible than bread quickly made with commercial yeast and flour.

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Since its arrival in my home 3 weeks ago, I’ve baked breads and sweet rolls using the starter four different times. With each batch, I’ve learned something new. And each time, the results have been better than the time before. Practice, practice.

But the upshot is this: Using the sourdough starter is fun and easy. I want to encourage you to not be daunted by the idea of it, as I was for so many years. There is not much actual labor involved in baking the bread.

Time and Forethought: that’s what is really takes.

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Check out the ingredient list for the basic recipe. It is beautifully simple: flour, starter, water, salt. No additional yeast! It makes 2 loaves, (or one loaf and a batch of sweet rolls) and can be readily augmented with different flours, grains, seeds, herbs, dried fruits and the like. Maggie tells me that adding a cup of rolled oats to the dough imparts wonderful flavor—I can’t wait to do this.

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For the first two tries, I used only unbleached bread flour. The following two, I made it with a combination of unbleached and whole wheat flours, and a little bit of sugar. A tablespoon of sugar seemed to balance yet enhance the tangy sour taste. The whole wheat brings more texture, interest, and nutrition to the dough, without being dense. The bread has a nice crisp crust and soft, yet sturdy structured crumb. And the flavor–Incredible!

Let’s just say that I won’t be buying bread for a while. And should I have too much bread in the house, there’s always sourdough croutons to consider, or stratas, bread puddings, and stuffings, like this one from Cooking Light with pears and sausage.

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I also made sweet rolls. I rolled out the dough for one “plain” sourdough loaf into a flat rectangle and spread it with a cup of blueberry preserves.

Luscious.

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Even better was the whole wheat combo dough, rolled out and filled with the much loved mixture of cinnamon, brown sugar, pecans, and golden raisins.

Make a loaf of bread and a breakfast treat at the same time.

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EXTRA TANGY SOURDOUGH BREAD adapted from King Arthur Flour
1 cup “fed” sourdough starter
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
5 cups unbleached bread flour (or in variation of 3 cups unbleached bread and 2 cups whole wheat)

The day before you plan to bake:
Pour 1 cup starter into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the lukewarm water and 3 cups bread flour. Beat vigorously. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rest at cool (68-70 degrees F is best) room temperature for 4 hours. Then refrigerate overnight, or 12 hours.

The morning of the day you plan to bake:
Mix the remaining 2 cups flour (here is where I augment, depending on my desired result. 2 cups whole wheat flour yields luscious results!) in a bowl with the salt and sugar. Remove the spongy overnight-proofed dough from the refrigerator. Combine this with the mixed dry ingredients and knead into a smooth soft dough. If you are using a stand mixer with a dough hook, mix for about 10 minutes. Place into a large lightly buttered (or oiled) bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise for 5 hours. The dough will be almost doubled.

Divide the dough in half and shape into loaves. Place on a baking sheet, cover, and let rise for 2-3 hours. The loaves will double in size.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Slash the tops of the loaves and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove and cool on a rack.

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EXTRA TANGY SWEET ROLLS

For the Cinnamon-Pecan-Raisin Filling
1 cup pecan pieces
1/2 cup raw or brown sugar (such as Demerara or Turbinado)
1/2 cup raisins (I used golden raisins)
1 tablespoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons melted butter

Place pecans, brown sugar, raisins, and cinnamon into a small mixing bowl. Pour in the melted butter and mix well.

Make the Sweet Rolls

Divide the dough (this is after it has had its 5 hour rise) into two pieces. You may want to use one piece for a loaf of bread–shape it into a loaf, cover, and set aside for its second rise.

I did not flour the work counter first–the dough was pliable not sticky. You are welcome to lightly flour your work surface, if you prefer.Roll out the remaining piece into a rectangle.

Spread the cinnamon-pecan mixture over the rectangle and roll it up into a cylinder, jelly-roll fashion. Cut into rings about 1 inch thick and place into a buttered baking pan or dish. I used a 10 inch tart pan.

Cover and allow the rolls to rise in a warm place for 2-3 hours.

Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on a baking rack. Drizzle with glaze (recipe below) and serve.

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For the Blueberry Filling
1 cup blueberry preserves

Liberally spread the filling across the surface of the rolled-out dough. Roll up the dough into a long cylinder. Cut into rings, about 1 inch thick and place into a buttered baking dish. I used a 10 inch tart pan.

Cover with plastic and allow the rolls to rise for 2 hours in a warm place.

Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven until golden brown–about 20 minutes. Place on a rack to cool and glaze, if you like.
Makes 16-18 rolls

Glaze
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
a few tablespoons half-and-half

Place the powdered sugar, lemon juice and vanilla into a small mixing bowl. While stirring, add a few tablespoons of half-and-half until you reach a smooth pourable consistency.

Drizzle over the somewhat cooled rolls and serve.

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WELCOME SPRING

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Posted in Breads, Breakfast, Recipes | 20 Comments »




November 20th, 2013

Jessi’s Pretzels

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Isn’t it wonderful, when you find out that something
you were convinced
would be terribly difficult,
involved, complicated,
long-and-drawn-out
and
down-right tricky

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was, in fact,
a breeze, a lark,
a walk-in-the-park,

and fun?

That was my pretzel-making experience.

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When Jessi brought her pretzels to potluck a few years ago, we all went crazy for them. Who makes pretzels? We rewarmed the soft salty twists in the oven. A dunk into a crock of spicy mustard, we greedily devoured them.

As I was compiling our recipes for the cookbook, I had no doubt.
The pretzels had to be represented.

Jessi readily accommodated, sending me her method, with tips.

Seeking to recreate the same distinctive taste that she and her husband had enjoyed in Bavaria, she had done extensive research and experimentation. The outcome–a straightforward, authentic, and easy-to-make recipe.

The dough is basic. It does not require lengthy rise time or punching down. If you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, you can whip it up in short order, let the machine do the 10 minute kneading process, while you do something else. Hand-rolling the dough into long strands and looping them into the pretzel shape is quite fun.

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But there is one piece to the process that was news to me. What Jessi learned—call it the secret, or the trick to making perfect pretzels—-is that you dip the dough knot into a diluted lye solution before baking.

Lye? Isn’t that the stuff Paulie put into Bed-Bug Eddie’s coffee in The Pope of Greenwich Village?

The idea of working with this caustic substance, well, freaked me out, at first. But Jessi, our resident soap maker, and no stranger to the product, assured me that there was nothing to fear. “Just Be Prudent.” (I’ve listed her prudent tips below, with the recipe.)

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Food-grade lye is an intrinsic component of curing olives, and making hominy, In the case of the pretzels, there is amazing science here–the interaction of sodium hydroxide with the oven heat produces that characteristic browning and taste before it vanishes.

And, it was not a problem to use. Really!

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I made a batch of pretzels for one of the cookbook’s photo shoot days. I was so elated with how splendid they turned out that I made them again when visiting my bread-baking friend Maggie.

For sure, they are delicious right out of the oven. But you can rewarm them the next day with terrific results. That outer brown sheen only gets crunchier—but there is still that soft chewy pretzel interior.

Many recipes use a combination of baking soda–which is another alkali– and water. And I am happy to send you to Cooking Light for their recipe, if you are not comfortable using the food-grade lye dip. It will make a good pretzel—but not a great one.

Here’s the link to my homemade mustards, if you want to go all-out. The coarse-grain stout mustard is made for pretzel-dunking.

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JESSI’S DELICIOUS GERMAN-STYLE PRETZELS
1 1/2 teaspoons dry active yeast
2 cups warm water, divided
5 cups bread flour
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup food grade lye*
10 cups water
Coarse sea salt to taste

Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup warm water.

Place the bread flour into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the salt, softened butter, activated yeast, and remaining water. Mix until combined. Knead the ingredients until the dough is elastic, about 10 minutes.

Cover with a towel and let the dough rest for 5 minutes.
Cut into 12 equal pieces and form into balls. Let rest for 5 minutes.
Roll each ball into a thin rope (about 18 inches long). Make into an upside-down U, and twist the ends around each other to create the distinctive pretzel shape.
Place each one on parchment paper–lined baking sheet and refrigerate uncovered for a minimum of 2 hours up to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a stainless-steel bowl, dissolve the lye in the water. Dip each side of the pretzels into the lye mixture for 15 seconds and remove to the baking sheet.

Sprinkle each pretzel with coarse salt.
Bake for about 17 minutes. Immediately remove the pretzels from the parchment onto wire rack to cool.

JESSI’S TIPS
• You can find food grade lye at a number of online sources. I ordered mine from http://www.essentialdepot.com/servlet/Categories.
• Only use stainless-steel pots, bowls, and utensils when working with lye. No plastic. No wood. It is wise to wear gloves when dipping the pretzels into the diluted lye solution.
• Don’t be afraid of the lye mixture—just be prudent. It’s pretty diluted and really the key to making the outside of the pretzel firm and browned evenly.
• You can also make pretzel rolls. Snip or score the top of the rolled ball after dipping in the lye solution.

Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Breads, Recipes | 12 Comments »




March 4th, 2013

The Girl Who Loved Maple Syrup

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Easter Sunday, circa 1967, pre-Easter Brunch at The Loveless Cafe, Nashville TN

That’s me, the tall one with the goofy yellow hat and cat-eye glasses. To my right is my sister Carole, the stormy-eyed tough kid seething in her frou-frou dress (I hate puffed sleeves !) My hand rests on top of baby brother Jim’s head, The Boy, clutching his musical Peter Rabbit (here comes Peter Cottontail, hopping down the bunny trail….) To my far left is sweet sister Barbara, demurring, (See, I really like my Easter outfit.)

This Brownie camera shot, no doubt taken by my mom, never fails to make me laugh. And not just because of our dorky of-a-time dress, or the family dynamic the image so aptly captures. It reminds me that sometimes the roots of your vocation are not obvious, but they are there, if you know where to look.

In this case, you’d have to look in that long plastic basket purse I was carrying.

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Because it held a bottle of maple syrup.

Well, not this particular bottle, but you get the idea.

So, why?

You see, I was the ultimate picky eater, and I knew we were going to the Loveless Cafe for brunch. The only thing I wanted to eat—correction, would eat—at the Loveless was a stack of pancakes.

The problem, which I gleaned with horror from a previous visit, was that they served Karo with those pancakes. Ugh. The little pitcher was filled with corn syrup. My stack was ruined.

I was not to be thwarted this time. I ferreted a bottle of the prized maple out of the pantry and tucked it (despite the stickiness risk) into that mammoth purse, which I lugged into church and then to the tables of Loveless. Easter brunch was saved.

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Pretty crafty, eh?

And while I grew up hearing and thinking that I was a pain and a hopeless food-hater, someone who lacked a refined palate, or any palate at all, I came to realize that the bottle of maple syrup tucked in my purse told a different story.

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It gave a hint that maybe this girl who loved maple syrup knew more about food than she realized. I mean, wouldn’t we all prefer maple syrup over corn on pancakes?

I write this today with those of you in mind who are picky, or have picky eaters in your family. Don’t despair. Inside that person there could be a great cook or chef or lover of good food. It can take time for that to emerge.

Often the things we seem to most reject, are the very things we end up embracing.

Pickiness is just another step along the path.

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Today’s recipe makes a simple but delicious bread pudding—sweetened with maple syrup—-but not too sweet. You could spark it with some cinnamon or nutmeg, or add more dried fruit. I kept it basic–maple and vanilla bean, with a handful of sultanas. I wanted the maple flavor to shine through.

Like all bread puddings, it’s a terrific way to use up stale bread. To me, It’s more of a breakfast bread pudding than a dessert, although it could go either way.

I served it warm with some yogurt and bananas (two other things that the long ago picky eater wouldn’t touch!) and an extra drizzle of maple over the top.

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MAPLE VANILLA BEAN BREAD PUDDING
3 cups half-and-half
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
1 cup maple syrup
4 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1 stale baguette, cut into cubes
1 cup sultanas
soft butter, to coat baking dish

Pour half-and-half into a large saucepan. Add vanilla bean. Heat until small bubbles form along the edges, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and allow vanilla to infuse the half-and-half. Scrape the inside of the vanilla bean to get out all the vanilla paste. Stir in the maple syrup.

Place cubed bread into a large mixing bowl.
Pour vanilla-maple mixture over the cubes.
In a separate bowl, beat eggs and cream until well combined. Pour over the cubes.
Add the sultanas. Stir the mixture well.

Coat the bottom and sides of the baking dish with softened butter.
Spoon in bread pudding mixture. Allow it to rest and absorb for 30 minutes.

Bake in the center of a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. The bread pudding will become puffed and golden, and the custard will set.

Serve warm, with fresh fruit and yogurt, and, of course,

a pitcher of real maple syrup.

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Posted in Breads, Breakfast, Casseroles, Desserts, Recipes | 26 Comments »




March 21st, 2012

Pecan-crusted Baked Ham, sweet potato biscuits

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When I was experimenting with mustards last month, Barbara over at Moveable Feasts wisely pointed out the timeliness of my post: just weeks from baking those Easter hams.

And that’s when I realized that any of my zesty trio–but especially the Apricot Mostarda–could be a key ingredient in the glaze.

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I had also been working on a story about Cane Syrup for Relish Magazine.

In Abbeville, Louisiana, the Steen family has been making this deep amber delicacy for over 100 years. Now they are the only producing mill in the country, garnering them recognition in Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, a catalog of over 200 foods in danger of extinction.

If you have the chance to cook with this syrup, I encourage you to do so. The taste is distinctive. Cooking-wise, it is interchangeable with other syrups, such as molasses, sorghum, or honey. Steen’s has a prompt, reliable mail order service, and an easy-to-navigate website.

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Lighter than molasses, Steen’s lends a deep bittersweet caramel note to foods.

And, mixed with my fruity mustard, sparked with a bit of allspice, it made a simple, yet spectacular ham glaze, with a slightly sweet nod to the South.

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I took that southerly turn just a tetch further, and dusted a top-coat of pecan pieces, which readily adhered to the sticky glaze.

What a wonderful combination!

The pecans toasted onto the ham as it baked, making a nice crunchy layer. Bolstered with piquant mustard, it sealed in the meat’s juices.

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I baked this ham for our Third Thursday Community Potluck, and wanted to serve something alongside that fit this Southern-style theme.

Sweet potato biscuits seemed like a perfect accompaniment, and are no more difficult to make than regular biscuits–just a few more ingredients.

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You can bake the sweet potatoes well ahead of time–the day before, if need be.

I used self-rising flour (still trying to use up that mispick that worked so well for this other biscuit recipe.)

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For their slap-dash, hands-on method—the less you work the dough, the better—biscuits are fun to make. This batch makes three dozen, which isn’t too many, when you have a big group, and a ham to match. The recipe I’ve given can cut in half without any problem.

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I love the color. And the smell!

As biscuits bake, your kitchen will fill with the aromas of ginger and clove.

Stuffed with slices of this ham, dabbed with fruity mustard, such a biscuit is a real springtime treat.

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PECAN-CRUSTED GLAZED BAKED HAM
1/2 cup Apricot Mustard
1/2 cup Steen’s Cane Syrup
2 t. Allspice
1/2 cup Pecans finely chopped

Sugar Cured Ham—shank or butt portion

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Trim ham–removing tough outer hide pieces, and any excess fat. Do leave a thin layer of fat–important to sealing in the juices of the meat.

Score the ham in crisscross fashion, cutting into that thin layer of fat–but Not all the way through to the meat layer.

In a small mixing ball, whisk the mustard, syrup, and allspice together.
Liberally coat the entire ham–all surfaces—with this glaze.
Place ham in baking dish. Pour 1 cup of water into the bottom.
Coat the upper glazed surface with finely chopped pecans.

Bake, uncovered, allowing 15 minutes per pound. An 8 lb. ham will take 2 hours.
Check periodically, adding a little more liquid so that the sugars don’t burn.

Allow the meat to rest at least 15 minutes before carving. The ham can be baked in advance and kept warm. It is also great served room temperature.

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SWEET POTATO BISCUITS
2 cups cooked Sweet Potatoes
4 c. Self-Rising Flour
1/3 c. Turbinado Sugar
1 t. Ginger
1 t. Nutmeg
1/2 t. ground Cloves
1/2 c. Milk, “soured” with 1 T. Lemon Juice
10 T. cold Butter, cut into pieces

1/4 cup ground pecans and turbinado sugar blend (optional)

Ahead of Time: Bake Sweet Potatoes (2 medium sized) in 425 degree oven until done. Allow to cool, and scoop out filling.

In a large work bowl, add dry ingredients: self-rising flour, spices, sugar. Add sweet potatoes, lemon-soured milk (or buttermilk) and butter pieces.

Working with your hands, mix all the ingredients, rubbing the butter pieces into the flour. Work quickly; soon it will all come together in a mass. If it is too sticky, add a bit more flour. Beware of overworking the dough–it will toughen.

Dust the work surface with flour. Roll out dough about 1/2″ thick and cut into rounds. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet, close-set, (sides touching is fine).
Sprinkle the tops with ground pecan-brown sugar mixture.

Bake at 425 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

Makes 3 dozen 2″ round biscuits.

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Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Breads, Meats/Poultry, Recipes | 26 Comments »




February 28th, 2012

Five Allium Farro Soup, and Spoonbread

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Allium
The Onion Family
garlic, scallions, onions, leeks, shallots, chives

I credit this humble tribe for waking me up, turning me around, and nudging me in the right culinary direction, oh-so many years ago. Once an affirmed picky eater, I had disliked ‘most everything. I had heaped onions and their ilk into my big pile of things never-ever to eat.

It wasn’t until I lived in Holland that I became enlightened to their beneficent ways.

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I was an exchange student, just out of high school. Gert, my Dutch mother, was a kind and patient woman who allowed me to accompany her on her daily round of shopping for the meals. Together we’d choose vegetables, a bit of meat, potatoes–of course!–and a hearty loaf of bread. I would help her wash and cut carrots, peel the spuds, trim the white endive.

She understood that I was picky, and that I was trying to push past the barriers I’d long entrenched for myself. Working together on the meals not only helped me to better learn the language and culture, indeed it forged a loving bond, easing me into the fold of her family.

Maybe she sensed that, deep inside me, there was a burgeoning chef, the anti-picky eater.

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In any case, it was her skillet thick with sliced onions, simmering in butter, softening, then gaining that rich caramel glaze that I recognize as my revelatory moment: what my writing teacher calls a “Shimmering Image.”

I had come home from a class late one afternoon, and Gert had already done most of the dinner preparations. I don’t remember what the skillet of caramelized onions was for–could have been a base for a soup or stew. It doesn’t–and didn’t– matter. What mattered was the smell. It filled the kitchen with a pungency that was heady and earthy and sweet and compelling. It touched on something–a memory? a desire?

I wasn’t sure. It was nothing I would ever have attributed to onions. I had to have a taste, pickyness be damned!

I grabbed a spoon and dug in. Mercy, what had I been missing?

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It’s funny how change occurs. Often it is slow, almost imperceptible in its unfolding. And then there are those Great A-Ha’s! A dramatic turn, where nothing is the same as before. After my indulgent spoonful of sweet sauteed onions, I opened my senses to the world of food.

In no time, the disdained became the embraced.

This simple hearty soup is a celebration of that first skillet of Genus Allium. I’ve put in most of the family—I love ’em all—each contributing a lush layer of savory-sweet bite. It’s vegetarian, although you could make it with chicken or beef stock, if you like. I prefer the straightforward vegetable. Delete the butter, and it becomes vegan.

Farro, that wonderful nutritious and nutlike grain, cooks up beautifully in the soup. It adds body, and a pleasant chewiness. Serve the soup with crusty bread—or try this easy, airy spoonbread. Essentially, it’s a cornmeal mush souffle—and it is divine.

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FIVE ALLIUM FARRO SOUP
2 medium Yellow Onions, sliced “pole to pole”
2 Leeks, cleaned, cut into 1/2″ pieces
2 large Green Onions or 1 bundle thin green onions, cut into 1/4″ pieces
1 large or 2 medium Shallots, diced
5-6 cloves Garlic, chopped
2-3 T. Olive Oil
1 T. Butter
Sea Salt
Black Pepper
Red Pepper Flakes (optional)
a few sprigs fresh Thyme (optional)
a few sprigs of Chives, finely chopped
1 quart Vegetable Stock
1 cup Farro, briefly soaked in water and drained

Heat a stockpot and add olive oil and butter. Add your cut onions, leeks, shallots, and garlic. Stir well to coat the pieces. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally. After 15 minutes (or so), the onions will begin to release their natural sugars and caramelize.

Pour in vegetable stock and stir well, scraping any browned bits on the bottom and sides of the pot. Add the farro. Cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes.

If the soup get too thick, add water–2 cups–to thin. You will not sacrifice flavor. Check seasoning—add some red pepper flakes, and fresh thyme at the end of the cooking cycle, if you like.

Spoon into bowls. Garnish with chives and serve.

Serves 4

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Have you ever eaten spoonbread?

It is a Southern delicacy, light–airy—so like a souffle.

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Some recipes call for separating the eggs, beating the whites and yolks separately, and folding into the mix, just as you would for a souffle. This recipe, based on the famous one served at Boone Tavern in Berea, Kentucky, calls for whole eggs, beaten into the cornmeal mush for a long time.

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It, too, results in a Grand Puff.

You’ll enjoy dipping your spoon into this special treat–a bit elegant, but rustic at its roots.

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SPOONBREAD, SIMPLY

2 cups Lowfat MIlk
1 cup Yellow Corn Meal
1 t. Salt
3 T. Unsalted Butter, plus 1 T. for coating baking dish
3 lightly beaten Eggs
1 t. Baking Powder

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a saucepan, heat milk. Stir in cornmeal and salt. Cook on medium heat, stirring continuously, until mixture thickens, but becomes smooth—corn meal mush. Stir in butter until it is melted. Remove from heat.

Place eggs into a stand mixing bowl. Add baking powder. Begin beating. Gradually add cornmeal mush. Keep beating—up to 15 minutes total. This seems long—but it beats sufficient air into the batter, which will make a delectably light spoonbread.

Pour batter into buttered baking dish or casserole.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until spoonbread has risen, with a browned top, and a toothpick, once insert, removes clean.

Serve immediately. Serves 3-4.

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Posted in Breads, Gluten Free, Recipes, Soups/Stews, Vegetarian Dishes | 38 Comments »




November 9th, 2011

Maggie’s Fruit-n-Granola Bread

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She’s at it again. Friend Maggie has become quite the baker, and during our visit last week, she showed me how to make her latest favorite: a delicious—and easy— granola bread.

Doesn’t it look tempting?

It’s chock full of dried fruits, almonds, and honeyed grains. The dough itself is barely sweetened; the abundance of jewel-like fruits provides bursts of sweetness throughout the loaf.

If she could, Maggie would have you over right now, for “a set” on her porch in the country. We’d savor the fall afternoon with a buttery slice and cup of coffee. Lining the front of her yard are the shrubs called burning bush–at this moment in their brilliant red blaze. We’d watch the flurry of chickadees, snatching and storing seeds for the coming winter. We’d talk about oddities we experienced gardening this year–how the tomatoes put more of their energy into vines than fruit, and did you know that groundhogs could climb a fence and eat green beans?

Instead, we’ll have to do the next best thing, and show you how it’s done…

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What a fetching assembly of ingredients!

You could make this bread with just raisins and granola, if you prefer. And, if you’d rather put in pecans instead of almonds, you’d be well-pleased with the results.

Maggie had all kinds of dried fruits–apricots, blueberries, cherries, cranberries—in her pantry, so we took the “more is better” approach. For this bread, it proves to be the right one!

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Yes, it’s a kneaded, yeasted bread, but don’t be dismayed. Remember, Bread=Time. And most of that time means leaving the dough alone. (after a vigorous kneading!)

This recipe calls for one major rising, followed by a brief one, once the loaves are formed.

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The holidays are drawing near. Wrapped up in festive packaging, her fruit-n-granola bread would make a much appreciated gift.

Even better though, would be to have a loaf on hand to serve guests, sliced and smeared with soft butter. Served alongside a cup of hot coffee or tea—ah, I can’t think of a more pleasant way to share a chilly afternoon visiting with friends.

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MAGGIE’S FRUIT-N-GRANOLA BREAD

1/3 cup Rolled Oats (not the “quick” kind)
1 1/2 cups Dried Fruit (use a variety & dice if necessary)
1 tablespoon Unsalted Butter (substitute vegetable oil for vegan)
2 tablespoons Honey
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 cup boiling Water
1 cup Granola (chop into coarse crumbs if necessary)
1 cup lukewarm Water
1 pkg. Active Dry Yeast
2 1/2 cups Unbleached All-purpose Flour
1/2 cup Almonds, roughly chopped

In a large bowl, combine oats, 1/2 cup of the dried fruits, butter, honey, and salt. Add boiling water, mix well. Stir in granola and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine yeast and lukewarm water. Cover bowl with a dish towel and set aside to ferment.

When granola mixture has cooled down to lukewarm, stir in yeast mixture.

Stir in flour, 1 cup at a time. Stir in the remaining dried fruit and almonds. The dough will be fairly sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Flour your hands, and adding flour as needed. knead the dough for about 8 minutes, or until it’s smooth and no longer sticky.

Place dough into an oiled bowl, making sure to coat all over. Cover bowl with a dish towel and place in a warm area – the oven with light on is a great place. Let rise until it’s doubled in size – 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Punch dough down. Cut in half and shape into two slightly oval balls. Place on an oiled sheet pan. Cover with a dish towel and let rise for 15 – 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375F. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes. It should have a golden brown crust and sound slightly hollow when tapped. Foolproof test is 190F on an instant read thermometer. Let cool on a wire rack.

Let cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing! (Gives you time to brew up that pot of coffee-)

Makes two small round loaves.

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Posted in Breads, Recipes, Vegan | 34 Comments »




September 7th, 2011

Big Hot Biscuits: Just 2 Ingredients!

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Shopping in haste I grabbed a bag of self-rising flour off the shelf instead of all-purpose. That error slipped unnoticed until I got home, and started unsacking the groceries. Argh. I don’t use self-rising flour. I have an attitude of disapproval towards it. Its ready-blend of salt and baking powder can get you into trouble.

I’m one of these control freaks–I prefer to put in my own quantities of leavening. As needed.

And, I’ve seen the tragi-comic results when self-rising is mistaken for all-purpose. I recall the layers of a certain multi-tiered wedding cake gone awry, at the hands of such an ingredient mispick.

Convinced that she was working with all-purpose, our baker Tonya added the baking powder and soda that her recipe called for. Super-leavened, the batter sputtered and foamed over the cake pans in rolling waves, forming strange baked stalagmites on the oven floor.

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Nonetheless, it was not worth it to return the unwanted bag. I decided to see how I could use the nefarious flour. (Hint-Hint! If you have good recipes, tell me about ’em!)

And then, I remembered some friends talking about Tammy Algood‘s “Two Ingredient Biscuits.”

” It’s so simple and good, it’s crazy. Just 2 Cups of Self-Rising Flour and 1 Cup of Heavy Cream.”

“That’s it?”

“Yep, that’s it.”

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Mixing up the dough should go quickly. Don’t overwork it. The trick to light biscuits is a light hand.

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And, a wet sticky hand.

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You could hand-form the shapes, or glob them, “drop biscuit” style, off the end of a spoon, right into the baking pan. I like to get out the rolling pin and give the dough a couple of turns to smooth and slightly flatten the surface, before I cut the rounds.

I don’t roll thin. Think Thick. Big Hot Biscuits is what its all about. As you cut the rounds, place them in a buttered cake pan, their sides touching. And, don’t worry about ’em being perfectly round. I like a wonky-shaped biscuit. It seems honest.

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A hot oven is key. Have it preheated to 450 degrees. If you like, (and I do!) slap a little sliver of butter on top of each biscuit before you put ’em in the oven.

In less than 20 minutes, you’ll have fat, fluffy biscuits, ready for whatever fixin’s you like. Guess I’ll have to reconsider my anti-self-rising stance.

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Biscuits connote The South, picnics, country ham, big breakfasts, sweet butter, sorghum. Have you tasted (or cooked with) sorghum? I’ve taken a fancy to this syrup only in recent years. Not to be confused with molasses,(a by-product of cane sugar) sorghum results from cooking down the cane of same-named plant. It’s flavor is distinctive: strong, but not overbearing; caramel sweet with a somewhat minerally edge.

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And a gorgeous amber pour.

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TWO INGREDIENT BISCUITS

2 Cups Self-Rising Flour
1 Cup Heavy Cream

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Measure flour into a mixing bowl. Pour in cream and quicky mix together. This will form a mass. If it seems too dry, add a little slug of milk or cream—the wetness of the dough actually helps steam up the biscuits!

Pat dough ball onto a lightly floured surface, and with the gentle pressure, roll out the dough—but not thin–about 1/2″ thick. Cut into rounds–at least 2″ in diameter—and place each biscuit in a greased round cake pan.

Let the biscuits touch, as you place them side by side in the pan. Biscuits bake up taller and more tender when they touch, “shoulder-to-shoulder.”

Optional: place a sliver of cold butter on top of each biscuit before you put the pan in the oven.

Bake for about 15 minutes. Tops (and bottoms) will be browned, and the biscuit interior will be white and fluffy.

Serve immediately, with butter, sorghum, honey, blueberry preserves…
Makes 8-12 biscuits.

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Posted in Breads, Breakfast, Recipes | 27 Comments »