Saturday, May 31, 2014

Updated Bread Recipe

For a very long time now, I have been making a version of my Mom and Grandma's bread that I have called My Kitchen Aid Mixer Bread. I changed things from Mom's/Grandma's original recipe such as using honey instead of sugar, 3 eggs instead of 3 egg yolks, and powdered milk instead of regular milk. The resultant mixture with the added liquid amounts (honey, eggs) needed a larger amount of flour to make the bread work. From Mom's original 7 1/2 cups of flour, I generally used 8 1/2 cups. Also, back when mom made this bread she usually used cake yeast. I have always used dry yeast packets as it is very difficult to find cake yeast.

My 40+ year old copy of Mom's bread recipe
While I lived in Guatemala, I made Mom's bread regularly, even when I had no oven, instead using a rack in an electric fry pan to bake one loaf at a time. At that time, back in the 1970s I made the bread by hand, kneading for 10 to 12 minutes. I learned what a really nice dough felt like and what to watch for. When I married my current husband, he bought me a bread machine, an early model by DAK. For a couple of years I used the bread machine relentlessly, cutting the recipe for Mom's bread roughly in half and letting the bread machine do the work of kneading and rising, though I always pulled it out to bake in pans in the oven. After a couple of years, my poor, overworked bread machine died. At this point, my husband finally convinced me to try a Kitchen Aid Mixer (I had declined earlier, thinking I didn't need one - HA. . .). Once I got the Kitchen Aid Mixer, I started making the full recipe again (4 loaves), and a whole new world of baking opened up. I loved that machine and used it for years, until I finally wanted to upgrade to the Pro 600 series with a bigger bowl. I gave my old machine to one of my daughters, who has it still, good as new.

It was during the time with my first Kitchen Aid that I really altered Mom's recipe to use honey and powdered milk. I had not used the order of mixing for a very long time. Mom's recipe called for cutting shortening (or butter or margarine) into the dry ingredients as for pie pastry and then adding the milk, yeast and eggs. I altered this to placing boiling water in the bowl of the mixer and adding a stick of butter from the fridge, with about 1/3 cup honey and salt. Once the liquids cooled sufficiently, I would add the dry ingredients (flour and powdered milk) along with the dry yeast which had been softened with a little warm water. Once these ingredients were all moistened, I added the eggs and then kneaded for 10 minutes. Mom's bread called for two rising times before forming into loaves. I followed this until "Instant" or "Quick-Rise" yeast started making an appearance, and then I switched to one rising time.

My Kitchen-Aid Mixer Bread

My Kitchen-Aid Mixer Bread
My Kitchen-Aid Mixer version, with ground flax seed added

Makes 4 loaves

1 stick butter
½ cup honey
½ tablespoon salt
3 cups hot water
2 cups bread flour
1 cup dry milk powder
2 packets instant dry yeast or quick rise yeast
3 eggs
6 - 7 cups more bread flour

In Kitchen-Aid, or other very heavy duty mixer, place butter, honey, salt and hot water, until butter is melted, or at least very soft. Allow to cool to lukewarm. In a large measuring cup or medium bowl, combine the 2 cups bread flour, the dry milk powder & yeast; stir together to combine. Making sure the water in the mixer bowl is not too warm, add in the dry mixture. Fit the mixer with the dough hook and turn on Stir or lowest setting possible to combine. Turn mixer to speed 2 to mix all dry ingredients in and then turn speed down to stir. Add in the eggs, and increase speed to combine well. Begin to add in more flour, 1 cup at a time, until you have added in 4 extra cups. At this point, watch carefully how the dough acts; start timing the kneading period for about 10 minutes from this point. The dough should remain soft, but not too wet. You will probably add in 8, possibly 8½ cups of flour total, but this will also depend on the ambient humidity level. If the dough gets too dry, it will try to climb right up the dough hook. This is more flour than was needed, but you will still get good loaves of bread - don't worry!

Drop the bowl down and remove dough hook. Allow the dough to rest for 1 - 2 hours, or until at least doubled in bulk. If using regular dry yeast, punch down and allow the dough to rise again, until almost doubled in bulk before proceeding.

Flour a surface and pull out all the dough, folding in and over on itself a couple of times. Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Grease 4 loaf pans (4 x 8 or 5 x 9). Take one of the sections of dough and flatten it a bit with your hands. Begin rolling it from one end, tucking it in as you roll, to form a nicely shaped loaf. Place it in one of the pans, repeating with the other three sections of the dough.

If making Bread Bowls for individual serving size, each loaf sized piece of dough is further divided into 4 sections. Tuck the dough under until a smooth round ball is achieved. Place these 4 on a baking sheet, without crowding. If more bread bowls are needed, use another loaf or more, for 4 bowls per loaf.

Allow the loaves to rise until they have risen just above the pan tops or about doubled in bulk. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake bread for approximately 30 minutes. Bake Bread Bowls for about 25 minutes, until nicely browned. Once removed from the pan, the loaves sound hollow when the bottom is tapped. Turn the loaves onto racks to cool. When making the 4 loaves, I usually freeze three until needed. 

At times when making the bread I would add in things like wheat bran for fiber, or wheat germ for flavor and nutrition. I started adding in ground flax seed more recently. I have used the basic recipe and turned it into many things over the years, but the recipe was sound and it was delicious. Then about a month back my sister in law brought me some bread baking books, and I started reading Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" and it is changing my way of looking at bread making. Rather radically.

Challah, made recently

A little over a week ago I made Challah from this book. I had never made Challah before, but the recipe in The Bread Baker's Apprentice was similar to Mom's bread in that it is a rich dough. It was similar to Mom's bread recipe, but with some specific differences. I wondered if somewhere in this book there was a recipe that would be close enough to Mom's bread that I could use the techniques used for Challah in the book. The Challah bread had the most beautiful dough I had ever worked with, and the crumb of the finished loaf was so fine and light. Searching the book page by page, I came across a recipe for Cinnamon Rolls/Sticky Buns; this dough recipe was about ½ the size of Mom's recipe, but had all the ingredients. I doubled the recipe to see how the ingredients stacked up against Mom's recipe. Boy, oh boy was it ever close. Yesterday I made the bread. The method for making the dough was different even from Mom's method, and one I had not used before. It called for creaming together the butter, sugar salt and dried milk powder, adding in the eggs and then the water and flour with instant yeast. 

My Updated version of Mom's Bread
My Updated version of Mom's Bread
Following this method, the dough kneaded beautifully. One thing I did that I have never done before was follow the ingredient amounts by weight. I keep seeing this reinforced in any serious baking book. Measure by weight, not by volume. I used the weight measurements and was surprised at how many differences in amounts turned up because of this.

Again, the dough's spring and resilience boded well for the finished loaves. Reinhart's method calls for two rising times, despite the instant yeast. The first rising  is to reach just double the volume of dough; the second rising calls for 1½ times the size. Both times it worked perfectly. The finished loaves came out with a slightly different texture than the Challah, but still with the light springiness and fine crumb. It is so fine and delicate; the loaves came out perfectly. The differences are subtle, but working with this dough was a joy. I do believe I will be using this new method from here on out. I am using the amounts in the recipe that came out from my use of weight vs volume, so many of the ingredients will have odd amounts, using < for "minus". I am adding the weight measurements in parentheses. My normal method for measuring flour is to scoop in the bag, gently sprinkle the flour back into the bag, then scoop the fluffed flour and level the cup. Even with this, I still needed only 6½ cups of flour to make 2 pounds rather than the 7½ the recipe called for. If using milk instead of milk powder, just omit the milk powder at the beginning and use the measure for the water, heating the milk to 90 to 100 degrees to add after the eggs.

Mom's Bread Updated

My Updated version of Mom's Bread
My Updated version of Mom's Bread

Makes 3 loaves

1/2 cup <2 tablespoons sugar (4 oz)
3 teaspoons <1/4 teaspoon salt (.5 oz)
8 tablespoons butter (4 oz), room temperature
8 tablespoons dried milk powder (2 oz)
2 large eggs
2 cups water, 90 - 100 degrees (16 oz liquid)
6 1/2 cups flour (2 pounds)
4 teaspoons instant yeast (.44 oz)

Place the first 4 ingredients in the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer and cream them together. Once well combined, add the eggs, one at a time until combined. In a separate bowl, combine the flour and yeast. Pour the water into the creamed mixture and gently stir to just loosen, then add the flour mixture and knead with the dough hook for 10 to 12 minutes. If kneading by hand, knead for about 14 minutes, or until the dough is firm and tacky, but not sticky. Grease a large bowl or dough rising bucket and place the dough in the container, turning to grease all sides.

Cover and let rise for 1 hour, at which time it should have doubled in size. Turn out on a counter or board and knead out all the bubbles for 2 minutes. Return to the container and allow to rise again for about 60 to 90 minutes more or until tripled in volume. Turn out onto a counter or board and divide into three equal portions. Gently press out each portion into a rectangle; try not to completely deflate the bubbles. Roll into loaves and set in greased loaf pans and allow to rise again, until at least doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 if Convection). Set loaves to bake for 25 to 35 minutes. Internal temperature should reach about 185 degrees. Turn loaves out onto racks to cool completely before cutting.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest

Friday, May 30, 2014

Cool Cucumber Soup Ideal for Summer

Have you ever had a cool or cold soup? When summer heat starts wearing you down, a cool soup is a wonderful addition to a meal. Many cool soups are RAW foods, just by their very nature. This is another great thing, because a raw soup offers more nutrition than one that has been cooked. Having all the ingredients in their raw state maintains the vital nutrients and enzymes. 

When I was living a RAW lifestyle a few years back, soups were a particular favorite of mine. Generally, I eat soup now and again, mostly thick and hearty types. I am not one to order a soup or have a soup at any meal unless it is one of these thick and chunky sorts, comprising a meal all by itself. But while eating only RAW foods, somehow soups were so easy to make and so flavorful that I ate them daily. And these soups were mainly blended completely smooth, by choice. Any soup that is thrown together in a blender can have some additional ingredients tossed in for texture, but I really liked the smooth soups. I made tomato soup most often, as I had a lot of basil growing and tomatoes and basil are kind of like soup and sandwich - they just go together. 

Creamy RAW Tomato Basil Soup

Creamy RAW Tomato Basil Soup
My Creamy RAW Tomato Basil Soup

Makes 2 servings

1 large ripe tomato, cored and cut in large chunks
¼ cup sun dried tomatoes
2 TB smoked sun dried tomatoes, or just use 6 tablespoons regular sun dried tomatoes
2 TB olive oil
½ cup basil leaves
2 sprigs of thyme, leaves stripped off and stems thrown out
1 large garlic clove, minced and soaked 5 – 10 minutes in apple cider vinegar, then drained
1 piece fresh ginger, walnut sized, peeled and sliced across the grain
½ Serrano chili pepper, seeds removed
2 small pitted dates
1 lime, juiced, or at least 2 TB of juice or more, to taste
½ tsp salt
½ tsp peppercorns
1 to 1 ½ cups almond milk (water can be used, but the almond milk imparts a creaminess)

Place all ingredients in the blender and blend until completely liquefied. If your blender does not have the power to finely liquefy things like whole peppercorns, pre-grind those first.

I didn't stop at tomato soups though, and made mixed veggie soups, squash soups and many others. I cannot quite remember if I actually made a soup of mainly green things. I probably did, but was not keeping a record, nor taking photos of every food I ate back then. 

Creamy RAW Vegetable Soup

Creamy RAW Vegetable Soup
My Creamy RAW Vegetable Soup
Makes 2 bowls

1 cup cherry tomatoes
½ red bell pepper, seeds and stem removed, in chunks
¾ cup celery with leaves, cut in chunks
½ small onion, thinly sliced⅓ cup white vinegar, optional
¼ cup sun dried tomatoes

2 tablespoons olive oil
⅓ cup raw cashews
½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dill weed (¼ cup if fresh)
1 cup water, or more, if needed
1 avocado, cut into dice, for serving

Place all ingredients except the avocado into a blender container (Vita Mix preferred). Blend until completely smooth. Serve in bowls with the avocado scooped on top. Without the avocado the soup will keep for 1 day in the fridge.

Yesterday I had to have a tooth pulled, so I figured it would be smarter to have soft things to eat for a little bit, until the gum heals. A nice RAW soup for lunch seemed logical. No chewing, and no accidental hurts. I took stock of what I had in the fridge, and then walked to the grocery store two blocks away for a few other things while my bread was rising. I wanted to make a green soup, so I got a "burpless" cucumber. I avoid cucumbers generally, because I tend to burp them, and while I still may with the "burpless" variety, it is not nearly the problem I have with the regular smooth-skinned cucumbers. The burpless are also called European or sometimes just hothouse cucumbers. Whatever they are called, they have less bitterness and less seeds. The skin is very thin. 

"Burpless" Cucumber
My plan was a green soup, so I went for mainly green veggies; cucumber, avocado, cilantro, kale. I used a whole apple for sweetness, along with a jalapeno for a nice little bite. When making these creamy smooth soups, it is helpful to have a really good blender. I have a Vita Mix, and I wouldn't trade it for the world. It is really powerful and will liquefy just about anything. I have had my Vita Mix for about 7 years, so it's been quite a while since I used a normal blender. I can't say how well all these ingredients will puree in a regular blender. My goal is to have all the fiber but no strings or chunks. The Vita Mix delivers on that score. 

RAW Cool Cucumber Soup
RAW Cool Cucumber Soup
This recipe can be altered to suit your tastes. I added some kale because i had it in the fridge, but any other leafy green such as spinach, chard, arugula - or none at all - will work fine. I left skin on the cucumber, ginger and the apple. I did remove the seeds from the cucumber, though that is not strictly necessary with this kind. I added cilantro, but many people dislike cilantro, so this can be omitted, or substituted with parsley. Nuts can be added, preferably raw cashews or almonds if desired. Frozen green peas would also be good, and chill the soup even more while blending. All I can say is that the soup was just so very delicious. I ate it all, though I really should have left at least half for tomorrow. Oh well. If on a RAW lifestyle, it is easily 2 meals. If using it for a regular meal, or a nice brunch, along with other courses, 1 cup should be plenty per person.

RAW Cool Cucumber Soup

RAW Cool Cucumber Soup
RAW Cool Cucumber Soup

Makes 5 cups

2½ to 3 cups cubed cucumber
½ cup cilantro, leaves and stems
1 small Haas avocado, or 1/2 large
¼ cup chopped scallion with some greens
1 jalapeno, seeds and membranes removed, optional
1 - 2 cups kale or other leafy green of choice
1 medium apple, core removed, in chunks
1 small clove garlic
1 (one-inch) cube fresh ginger
1 teaspoon dried dillweed
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup water or coconut water

Place cucumber cubes in blender container with the cilantro, and all the rest of the ingredients and puree until smooth. It is wonderful just blended, or can be chilled further in the refrigerator before eating, as desired.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Bread Pudding is a Fine Comfort Food

I have yet to meet a bread pudding I didn't like. Bread puddings come in all sorts of styles, shapes, sizes and flavors. I don't believe bread pudding was ever a part of my life growing up, but once I married and moved to Guatemala, I started exploring the few cookbooks I had and found bread pudding as a dessert option. Leftover bread is always around. Milk and eggs and sugar were always on hand. Presto!

Most of my sisters like bread pudding, though some may eschew the whole concept on the basis of calorie or carb count. Granted, it is hard to make bread pudding without carbs. Calories can be corralled a bit if needed. I personally just don't care. Once in a while, I make bread pudding and sit in glorious rapture as I take a spoonful and savor the smoothness, sweetness and creaminess. It doesn't get much better for comfort food in my book. If you are not a bread pudding fan, then this blog is simply not for you.
White Chocolate Bread Pudding
White Chocolate Bread Pudding

It wasn't until my current husband and I moved to Mandeville, Louisiana that I really found out what bread pudding could be. The bread puddings I had made from my Joy of Cooking or Better Homes and Gardens books back in Guatemala did not have a sauce poured over them. In Louisiana, there is definitely a sauce poured on top of bread pudding just about everywhere you might go. And in Louisiana it is hard to find any restaurant that does not have bread pudding on the menu. I was in bread-pudding-heaven down there! Some bread puddings had the sauce poured over them straight from the oven, to soak in at its leisure. Some places served a sauce on the side, and some poured it over the pudding when it was served. Sometimes the bread pudding was made in a flat pan, sometimes in tall souffle type pans. Sometimes the puddings were more dry and sometimes very wet. Many had raisins. One even had coconut. Not every bread pudding I ate in Louisiana was on the tippy-top of my list, but they were still good. The ones that were really good though, were out of this world.

White Chocolate Bread Pudding
White Chocolate Bread Pudding: just baked;                                      with Bourbon Sauce poured over top

One place we went quite often when living in Mandeville was the Times Bar & Grill. I would rate their bread pudding right at the top of my list of desserts, nearly provoking a "When Harry Met Sally" moment. Even if I was too full to eat a dessert, I would order it to take home. The Times Bar & Grill did survive Katrina, though I have no idea what their menu contains at this point in time as it has been a lot of years since we moved away. Another great restaurant right around the corner from where we lived was Semolina. They had some amazing pasta dishes, of course, and their bread pudding was the really tall one I described as like it was baked in a souffle dish. Excellent, though a drier variety.

Okay, so after all the amazing bread puddings I ate everywhere we went, I also continued to make them at home. I have played with the amounts and this recipe is the one I like best, both for the bread pudding and for the sauce. I like to add white chocolate to the bread pudding as I feel it makes the pudding even more unctuous, but it can be left out with no problems to the recipe. I use whatever kind of bread I want, from sandwich bread to a very artisanal, chewy style - or a combination. I often buy a loaf of French bread and use that. I rarely use dry stale bread. I think of a thing and want to make it NOW! The bread pudding I made a few days ago was partly made with leftover hamburger buns and part artisanal bread. 

Once I had some of my Double Chocolate Bread and decided to use it to make a bread pudding and it was great. The addition of chocolate chips might have made it better, though I had none at the time. No photos of my Double Chocolate Bread exist - it seems to disappear before a photo is even taken. This bread is a bread - nothing like a sweet cake or brownie. But it is absolute HEAVEN when toasted and topped with honey. 

Double Chocolate Bread

Makes two 8 x 5-inch loaves

1 package yeast, instant preferred (or "Gold" for sweet breads)
3 cups bread flour
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 egg
1 cup milk, warmed
¼ cup water
1 cup chocolate chips

In the bowl of a heavy duty mixer, combine together the flour, yeast, brown sugar, salt, cocoa, cinnamon. Add the warm milk, water and the egg, along with the chocolate chips and set the mixer to stir, then allow to knead for up to 8 minutes. Lower bowl, remove the dough hook, and allow to rise until doubled in bulk - about 2 hours.

Remove dough to a floured surface and divide into two sections. Gently roll into loaves and place in greased loaf pans, and allow to rise once more until doubled in bulk.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes. These are smaller loaves, but they are dense, so may require the whole 30 minutes baking time.

NOTES: Rich yeast dough sometimes takes a very long time to rise. The King Arthur Flour Bakers catalogue has "SAF Gold Instant" yeast (sometimes referred to as "brown yeast"), made especially for these rich yeast doughs. It only comes in a 1 pound brick, so if you do not make rich yeast dough often, this might not be for you.

If desired, ½ to 1 cup of raisins may be added to the dough at the beginning of the kneading time, along with the chocolate chips. The raisins make a more moist bread.

Back to the Bread Pudding:

The heavy cream called for can be substituted with half & half, milk or 2% milk as desired, though the outcome will be far less creamy, particularly with the latter. Many bread pudding recipes call for raisins. I do not care for cooked raisins in a dessert, so I do not use them. If you love raisins, add in about 1/2 cup of them. Other dried fruits could also be added, such as craisins, cherries or apricots, or a combination.

I have experimented with many of the sauce recipes available. The sauce can be made with bourbon, brandy, cognac or rum, or none-of-the-above. It needs to cook until it "coats the back of a spoon" or until a candy thermometer reaches 235. The first time I made the sauce, it was in a taller saucepan and it took over an hour to reach that point. After that I started making it in my widest soup pot, giving the sauce a lot of surface area to evaporate more quickly. This way it takes about 15 or 20 minutes.

White Chocolate Bread Pudding

Makes one 13 x 9-inch pan

16 ounces of bread of choice, cut in 1-inch cubes
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
6 eggs
1 cup sugar
4 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons bourbon (or brandy, rum, cognac)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 ounces white chocolate, chopped finely

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 on Convection). Grease a 13 x 9-inch pan. Have a larger casserole or roaster pan that will accommodate the 13 x 9 pan easily.

In a large bowl, toss together the bread cubes with the cinnamon and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs until combined. Add in the sugar, heavy cream, cognac and vanilla and whisk together well. Pour this mixture over the bread cubes and stir to combine. At this point the mixture can be held for 15 minutes to 24 hours. When ready to bake, add in the white chocolate and stir. Have boiling water ready to pour into the larger pan. Pour the bread mixture into the prepared 13 x 9 pan. Set the bread pudding pan into the larger pan and very carefully, pour the boiling water into the larger pan until it comes halfway up the sides of the 13 x 9 pan, creating a water bath to help the pudding cook without making scrambled eggs. Carefully set the whole thing in the oven and bake until a knife inserted between the center and the edge comes out clean, about 40 - 45 minutes.

Making Bourbon Sauce for Bread Pudding
Just beginning to cook the sauce            sauce bubbling to half the pan height               coating the back of a spoon 

Bourbon Sauce

1½ cups heavy cream
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons bourbon (or brandy, rum or cognac)
¼ teaspoon cinnamon

Stir all the ingredients together in a large, wide pot. If you prefer the bourbon to make more of a statement, add it later, once the sauce has cooked. Set the pan over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Lower to about medium heat and allow to cook without stirring, to 235 degrees or until it coats the back of a spoon. A candy thermometer is helpful, but not necessary. Just about when the sauce is ready, it will bubble up quite high in the pan (middle photo above), so check often. It should coat a spoon so when a finger is passed across the spoon it will leave a definite, visible trail (photo at right above).

Pour the sauce over the baked bread pudding. Cool to lukewarm to serve.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A New Potato Salad

I had stopped getting any food magazines for a while, mainly because I wanted to spend more time inventing recipes of my own. Still, getting inspiration is helpful. I watch TV shows and get ideas. I keep a pad of paper nearby to scribble notes on ideas to try when I see something I think would be good to experiment with. It can be any aspect of a food that calls me. A mix of spices I hadn't thought of. A food addition that sounds good. And then I got an invitation to re-subscribe to Food & Wine Magazine that was just an offer too good to refuse. And shortly after, I got an even better offer from Bon Appetit. So now I am getting 2 magazines, where I had been getting only one. And I am getting more new ideas. 

In the latest Food and Wine Magazine there was a recipe for a Grilled Potato Salad. The recipe is extremely simple, and it is hard to really think of a way to make it completely my own. I did not read the recipe beyond the ingredients. It called for small potatoes like fingerlings, a vinaigrette and some scallions. This caught my attention. I love potatoes with skins. My husband does not. If I made this recipe, would I have to eat the whole thing myself? No matter how good, after 3 or 4 days, I just want something different.

My regular Mustard Potato Salad recipe, which I have been making for a very long, long time, uses a vinaigrette to start the layers of flavor. I know this is not everyone's way of making potato salad, but my husband and I love the flavors, and that is all that matters. For Memorial Day, yesterday, I planned to make steaks on the grill, my Mustard Potato Salad and Mom Rawstern's Famous Baked Beans. I invited my sister-in-law and a friend she has staying with her. As I was going to be grilling anyway, I decided this would be my chance to try the new potato salad idea. This would be in addition to the regular potato salad. I figured if the new potato salad was a no-go, at least the other potato salad was there, and I know everyone likes that.

I brought up the vinaigrette because I thought since I would be making my vinaigrette anyway, I would make 1/2 recipe more and use this for the grilled potatoes. I had no scallions, though they would be a great addition whether raw or grilled. I do however have a pot of chives, currently in flower out in my sun room. I thought I would grill a half yellow onion and add that to the salad, just to see how it tasted. In retrospect, probably 1 or 2 onions would have been better. They shrink so dramatically when they are cooked. 
Grilled Potato Salad with Three Onions
Grilled Potato Salad with Three Onions

The potatoes I used were small "Klondike Gourmet"; not fingerlings. I boiled them whole with a tablespoon of salt until tender, then drained and left them on the counter to cool. I sliced them in half once cooled and brushed the cut sides with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper. While I grilled the steaks I also grilled the potatoes, cut side only. The onion slices were added to the grill pan and tossed until nicely charred. The whole recipe came together easily and I presented it at table. These potatoes were such a hit that my Mustard Potato Salad was hardly touched! I believe if using the tinier fingerlings, these would be an excellent addition to an appetizer party - they are that tasty! Serve with toothpicks or little bamboo cocktail "forks"
Bamboo Cocktail forks
. There is a great website called Pick on Us, that sells all sorts of bamboo toothpicks and other picks - I love it for all my appetizer needs!

I called this dish Grilled Potato Salad with Three Onions because I used grilled yellow onions, snipped fresh chives and the chive flowers. If the chives or chive flowers are not available, I would toss in some chopped scallions and some of my new Pickled Red Onion, chopped. Shallot would also be nice. Basically, the differing onion flavors and textures to compliment the grilled potatoes was the goal.

Grilled Potato Salad with Three Onions

Grilled Potato Salad with Three Onions
Grilled Potato Salad with Three Onions
Serves 4 - 6

1½ pounds small potatoes
1 tablespoon coarse salt for cooking water

¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper
1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced

salt and pepper and olive oil for brushing
1 - 2 white or yellow onions
chives, to taste
scallions, optional

Place the cleaned potatoes in a pot with er to cover. Bring to boil, add the tablespoon salt and lower to a simmer for 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked through. Drain the potatoes and set them aside to cool. 

Great Grill Pan
Make the vinaigrette: Place the salt and pepper with the tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of the oil in a bowl and whisk them together. Add the rest of the olive oil in gradually, whisking constantly until totally incorporated. Set the vinaigrette aside. 

Once cooled, slice the potatoes in half - lengthwise and down the narrow side so you have thinner pieces to grill. Set all the potatoes cut side up on a baking sheet. Brush the cut sides with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Preheat a grill. Having a grill pan works wonderfully to keep all the potatoes from slipping through the grates. When the grill and the grill pan are very hot (at least 400 degrees) place the potatoes cut side down on the grill or pan. It will take at least 15 or more minutes for the cut sides to get very crispy and a little charred. Remove them to a bowl once done. 

Slice the onions across into rings about ¼ or more inches wide. Separate the rings and set them on the grill. Turn them frequently to prevent burning before they get cooked through. Once they are cooked and lightly charred in places, remove them to the bowl with the potatoes. Pour the vinaigrette over the potatoes and onions and toss to coat. Add the chives and chive flowers if available. If these are not available, slice scallions to add the gentle onion bite.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest

Monday, May 26, 2014

Pizza and Pickled Red Onions

Pancetta & Brussels Sprouts with Goat Cheese Pizza
The two things in the title have nothing to do with each other, but they are both things I had been working on in the last few days. In the continuing story of my love affair with making new breads, pizza dough is another new step for me. I have been making pizza dough from my old (© 1966) Joy of Cooking since I started making pizza dough long, long ago. I liked the recipe just fine, and I also found that the dough makes a really nice loaf of "Italian" bread if there is any left over. In Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Maker's Apprentice", he also has a pizza dough recipe.

Recently, watching one of the Unique Eats shows on TV, someone was making pizza dough and all they really said was that it was made very simply, from flour, salt, yeast and water; the dough was formed into balls and refrigerated until needed. This sparked my curiosity, and I had been wanting to try this out. And then along came Peter Reinhart's book and there is a recipe for a very simple pizza dough that is formed into balls and kept refrigerated until needed. Serendipity, I'd say! So I made the dough a few days ago. The water called for is to be iced water, the dough is mixed and kneaded and formed into balls before refrigerating; check. The following day I got out two balls of dough and set them on the counter for the stipulated 2 hours before using them.

Spinach Pizza: brush dough with EVOO, sprinkle with Parmesan, add spinach, top with Mozzarella
The book is very clear about how to form the dough for the pizza. One is to use the backs of the hands only, lifting the edges of the dough and quickly stretching and turning until you have a dough that can be tossed in the air, as the professionals do. Ha! I figured I would have dough landing on the floor somewhere, so I just skipped that last step. That said, this dough was unlike anything I had ever used. When the balls of dough went in the fridge the dough was still quite sticky. After resting for 2 hours on the counter, the dough was spongy and dry and very easy to work and stretch. Even when my fumbling backs-of-hands slipped and the dough fell in a little heap on the counter, it was remarkably easy to just lift it back onto the backs of hands and continue. The dough did not stick to itself. It stretched very easily and kept the stretched shape. This was very new territory for me. 
Spinach Pizza served

That first day, I stretched the dough too far, making a slightly larger than 12-inch pizza. The book said 9 - 12 inches, but no more than that. The center of the dough was so thin you could read a paper through it, and there just wasn't enough dough there to support even the relatively scant toppings. Okay, it was my first time. I was overambitious with the stretching. On day 2 I kept a careful eye on the stretching, stopping at around 9 inches. I set this onto the pan (sprayed with cooking spray and sprinkled with cornmeal) and gently lifted the edges, turning as I went and got the dough to a nice 12-inch circle. It had a bit more thickness in the center, as I was careful not to stretch that too much. The pizzas were far nicer and had a little more support. On day three I stretched the dough to about 11 inches total, and I liked the weight of those pizzas far more.

The baking was the other thing new. I had never, ever, set my oven so hot to make a pizza before. A temperature of 400 or 450 seemed too hot. Then again, my husband likes to plop all his pizza toppings toward the center of the pan, so that's a lot of thickness to get baked through. I don't use so many toppings on my pizza, generally, and I like to spread my toppings all the way to the edge. Still, the oven seemed too hot to bake the pizza through. With this new dough, and endeavoring to keep the toppings minimal, I set the oven to 500 on Convection (which is equivalent to 525 regular). The first night, with that very thin crust, I set the pan on the 2nd rack up from the bottom. The top of the pizza was definitely done, but on trying to cut, I found the center of the crust was still gummy and not quite done. On Day 2, I removed that 2nd shelf and set the pan on the lowest rack. At exactly 8 minutes the top was done. When I cut into the pizza the bottom crust was crisped. Success!

So, that is my pizza story. I am looking forward to doing this again, sometime soon. I am wondering how this pizza dough would perform if stretched only to about 8 or 9 inches and made on the grill? I love grilled pizza, so this is something I am looking forward to trying. In the meantime, I had been seeing various people on TV making pickled red onions. The recipes go all over the board from all white or cider vinegar and a LOT of sugar, to a very mild rice vinegar and only a tablespoon or so of sugar, to cooking them in the brine, to pouring the brine over raw onions - and on and on and on. I went a middle of the road route for my first effort. The red onions turn a beautiful bright pink. They keep their crunch but lose their "bite". They are excellent, and I ate some with my pizza last evening. Yum!
Pickled Red Onions

Pickled Red Onions

Makes 1 quart jar

2 red onions, sliced in ⅓ to ¼ inch thick rings
4 cups boiling water

1 cup white vinegar
½ cup water
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoons Kosher salt
1 "true cinnamon" quill about 4-inches long
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
5 allspice berries
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic, smashed
3 whole cloves

Place the sliced onions in a large bowl and pour the boiling water over, tossing to expose all the onions to the hot water; let stand two minutes and drain the onions in a colander. Pack the onions into a glass quart jar.

In a saucepan, combine the brine ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer for 1 minute, remove from heat and allow to cool to lukewarm before pouring over the onions in the jar. Seal the jar and refrigerate for at least a day before using.

Red Onions: Raw          -         just brined            -           after 2 days
The change from the dull purple of the onions raw, to the color when the vinegar brine first hits them to the beautiful rose color after a couple of days is just wonderful. They are so pretty. And they are delicious. Use them as a topping on sandwiches, or in a salad. The onion bite is completely gone, and you have a flavorful condiment to use for anything you can dream up.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Another Take on Sweet Potato Cake

My Valentine Cupcakes
Back in February for Valentine's Day, I made some spectacular Sweet Potato Cardamom Cupcakes and filled them with Pistachio Cream and topped them with Strawberry Rosewater Frosting, left. The cake itself was moist and delicious, and I went on to  make it again as a layer cake, below. While it was really a wonderful, moist and flavorful cake, I was not 100% happy with its texture. I'd been thinking about this for a while, wishing to get to a point where  I could get back to this concept and try again. 

Sweet Potato Cardamom Cake with Pistachio Filling & Strawberry Rosewater Frosting
A few days ago, amid making breads and starter doughs, I finally got to the cake. I'd had a couple of sweet potatoes in the fridge for a while, waiting to be used either for this cake or for sweet potato fries (whichever desire came first). I sat down with my recipe and pondered the way I had made it last time and what could be done differently. I looked up other recipes online to see what others did differently. I made a decision to try a few things such as using a melted butter and oil combination rather than creaming butter and sugar. More eggs and more sugar went in along with more sweet potato. There is little I didn't tweak. 

When creating a recipe this way, there is no way to be completely sure of the outcome unless you know the chemistry of combining ingredients (which I don't). Will the batter be too wet or too dry? Will it need more flour? Is there too much sugar? Will the combination and ratios of flour and other ingredients to leavening ingredients work? I like using buttermilk in cakes, as I feel it gives a tender moistness, but this time I opted for liquids in the form of the melted butter and oil and left the buttermilk, or any milk, out completely. Rather than cardamom, I went with coriander and some ginger. Coriander is not a spice I think about often enough when making cakes or other desserts, though I do empirically know that it has a lovely citrus-y note. The other thing I decided on was using nuts in the cake batter, where I had not in the previous recipe. I went to work and whipped up the cake; as far as the batter went it worked perfectly, and in the oven it went. Forty minutes later, I was rewarded with most perfect layers; not too domed, perfectly baked. Still, looking at the two cakes, the difference between them make it hard to think they are both sweet potato cakes!

Sweet Potato Walnut Cake

Sweet Potato Walnut Cake

Makes one (2-layer) 8-inch cake

2 cups cooked, mashed sweet potato
½ cup melted butter
½ cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoons ground coriander seed
½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup ground walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (325 if on Convection). Grease two 8-inch round baking pans, then line the pans with parchment circles. Grease the parchment. Set aside.

In a mixer bowl, beat together the cooled sweet potato with the butter, oil and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time until they are completely incorporated, then the vanilla.

In a separate bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, ground coriander, baking powder and soda, salt and ginger. Add these ingredients to the sweet potato mixture in three parts, beating just until combined. Fold in the nuts. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans. Bake the cakes for about 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Now I had to wait till the cakes cooled and meanwhile decide on a flavor for the frosting. My mind wandered through all my spice cabinets in search of a flavor or combination of flavors that would suit the "feeling" in my mind. After consideration, I decided on Chai.

Chai means "tea" in many languages, but it has become synonymous with a highly spiced tea with a milk product. I love chai. I have always been interested in spices, and have loved tea since childhood so this was no stretch. I used to get the Herb Companion magazine many years back when I was more actively gardening, and they once had a wonderful chai a recipe. For some time that was my go-to recipe. Then Starbucks and other places started featuring chai and I got hooked. We met a wonderful Indian couple in Louisiana and when we visited them, Priti would serve us her version of chai.

Masala Chai

Masala Chai

Serves 2

4 whole cloves
2 whole cardamom pods
1 (2-inch) piece cinnamon stick, preferably “true
cinnamon”: i.e. Ceylon, or Saigon cinnamon
1 tablespoon dried lemongrass leaves
1 star anise, whole
1 cups water
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
⅛ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup half & half, or milk
2 tablespoons black tea (Darjeeling is great)

In a mortar, crush the cloves, cardamom and cinnamon. Transfer crushed spices to a small saucepan, add the water, ginger and pepper (and lemongrass and star anise, if used) and bring to a boil. Remove pan from heat, cover and steep for 5 minutes. Add milk and sugar to pan and bring to the boil. Remove from heat and add tea. Cover and steep for 3 minutes. Stir, then strain into a warmed teapot. 

The use of tea in foods seems to be the latest flavor sensation. Watching TV shows or reading magazines, I see ground black or green tea used in recipes, or the tea is made and used as the liquid in a recipe, or a fruit is soaked in tea and added to a recipe. It was no stretch to use tea in the frosting and add in a small amount of spices, though far less than for chai. The use of cream cheese in the frosting took care of the milk part of the equation. Once I mixed the icing, I realized I must have done something wrong in the basic ingredients. My frosting was far softer than I meant for it to be. Still, it held the piped star decoration just fine so it worked. The flavor is really marvelous; creamy with that bit of chai spice.
Dried Lemongrass Leaves
Dried Lemongrass Leaves

I always use whole spices where possible and grind them myself in a little coffee grinder used only for spices. I used whole leaf Darjeeling black tea, a small chunk of true cinnamon quills, whole black peppercorns, whole cloves, cardamom seeds. Ginger is far harder to grate when dried, so I opt for pre-ground ginger. Lemongrass leaves are a part of my chai tea recipe and I had some in a little jar. Unfortunately, it left tiny, fine stem centers in the final grind which no amount of time seemed to touch. They are not noticeable in the icing itself, nor do I feel them in my mouth. My only concern would be trying to use an icing tip for decorating and having these little fibers clog the tip. I did use a piping bag to decorate the top, but the tip was a large, open star, so nothing would clog that.

Chai Cream Cheese Frosting

Chai Cream Cheese Frosting
Chai Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes enough to frost an 8-inch layer cake

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
7 - 8 cups sifted confectioners' sugar (about 2 pounds)
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon whole leaf black tea, ground, OR
(1½ teaspoons black tea from a tea bag)
½ teaspoon ground true cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
⅛ teaspoon ground cardamom
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
4 black peppercorns
1 teaspoon finely ground dried lemongrass leaves, optional

Place butter and cream cheese in a heavy duty stand mixer bowl and beat for 6 to 8 minutes, until very light and fluffy. Sift 4 cups of the confectioners' sugar with the salt and remaining ingredients and add these ingredients to the creamed mixture. On lowest speed, combine these dry ingredients. Sift the remaining 3 - 4 cups of confectioners' sugar and add about 2 cups more to the bowl, combining slowly. At medium speed, whip the frosting for another 5 or 6 minutes, stopping to add more confectioners' sugar if the frosting seems too soft.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Some Things I Have Been Making Lately

I have been quite busy lately; mostly with baking. When my sister-in-law, Sherri brought me all those cookbooks, mostly on breads, I sort of parked myself in one of them, "The Bread Baker's Apprentice: by Peter Reinhart. I have been so enchanted with the recipes and all the instruction, explanation, theory, chemistry, all the why's and wherefores of bread making. I wrote about this a bit in my blogs of May 1st, and May 2nd, and sporadically since then. 

Caraway Deli Onion Rye
I started out making a "seed starter", meaning I mixed flour and water and let the wild yeasts that live in everything around us just come calling and ferment the starter with no help from commercial yeast. Once the starter was ready after 4 days, I proceeded to make the "barm" which is just a step further, making the starter usable for many of the recipes in the book. The first bread I tried after making the barm was a Caraway Deli Onion Rye. This bread was a fantastic success, doing everything it was supposed to do and the flavors were most amazing. I felt this was an auspicious start, so I proceeded to plan what else to make. One kind of bread I like is the really dense 100% rye. Rye does have some gluten in it, but not as much as wheat, so making anything completely from rye with no help from any wheat flour makes it a far more dense bread. Some groceries carry this kind of bread and I was buying it locally here for a while. 

Once I had finished with the starter, the barm and that first rye bread, and learning the barm could be frozen, I divided up the remaining barm and froze it to have ready at a day's notice and just took a break from the mess all over the kitchen for a few days. I then proceeded to read about more of the rye breads, as I had just bought a pound of rye berries. I decided on making the 100% Sourdough Rye. I got one of the frozen barm starters out of the freezer and let it thaw overnight, then divided that up, using one half to make the rye starter for that bread, and mixing more regular flour and water with the remainder to keep the barm going while I decided what else to make with it. 

100% Sourdough Rye: yesterday, loaves formed; today after 5 hours; loaves after baking
I will say, I am not having quite the "quick" response times as the book indicates when it comes to the rye. I mixed up the rye flour starter, and the book said it should take about 4 hours to double in size. I had the starter out the entire day long and it never really rose at all. It sort of relaxed and settled in the container but that was it. Finally late that night I put it in the fridge regardless, along with the refreshed barm. I mixed up the bread recipe yesterday, which indicated another 4 or so hours and the dough should have doubled or possibly gone to 1½ times its size  - NOT - Just wasn't happening. It grew a little. 

100% Sourdough Rye
After 6 hours I just formed the loaves and gave it another night refrigerated. At 6:00 AM this morning I got it out to come to room temperature and grow prior to baking; in a perfect world, 4 hours to double in size. That didn't happen either. Oh well. I left it out today for 5 hours and then baked just as indicated, using a very hot oven to start, with a pan of water for steam, opening the oven door after 30 seconds to spray the walls of the oven with more water, then after another 30 seconds, and after another 30 seconds. Then lowering the temperature, the loaves baked just as indicated, rising a bit, but remaining very heavy and dense. I expected heavy and dense, but it seemed the book indicated more growth than took place. Regardless, it is delicious.

Beautiful Challah loaves
While watching the 100% Sourdough Rye not doing anything all day yesterday, I decided to try making Challah. I have been making my Mom's (and Grandma's) bread recipe for more than 20 years. It is quite similar, in that it is a rich bread, using a fair amount of sugar, butter and eggs. Though I might have done things differently (as used to my Mom's bread as I am), but I followed the instructions for the Challah in the book to the letter; the dough came together just as stated. After kneading it stretched beautifully to create the "windowpane effect", meaning the dough stretched to a thin membrane without snapping. It grew just as stated, I formed one loaf into a braid and one in a loaf pan. They baked so beautifully I was in awe. They were the prettiest, lightest, most perfect loaves. I was in heaven. And, it tasted fantastic too. My husband said he could live on that bread just fine!

Today I made a batch of dough for pizza. I have been making my pizza dough from the same recipe for just ever. The Bread Baker's Apprentice has you making the dough up using ice water and then forming into individual balls and refrigerating for 1 to 3 days before using. Tomorrow, I am planning to make pizzas. My husband has a way of making his pizza that is certainly any Italian's nightmare. Tomorrow, he's going to have to put up with my idea of what a pizza should be, because with this dough I want to do my best to create a proper pizza. In a couple of days, with more of the dough, he can do his own thing.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest