Thursday, August 30, 2018

A Rustic Pie for Dinner

The original recipe for this galette (rustic pie) came from Food and Wine Magazine, many long years back. I've been making it over these years, with wonderful results every single time. It does not contain meat, but my husband and I enjoy it enough that meat is not missed. It is filled with all sorts of wonderful flavors, wrapped into a pie pastry and baked. A nice green salad on the side and it's a meal. 
Leek & Mushroom Galette with Goat Cheese
Leek & Mushroom Galette with Goat Cheese

While we have traditionally served it as 4 to 6 meal portion size pieces, it can be served as an appetizer portion, divided into 8 to 10 portions. While we have traditionally eaten it as lunch or dinner, it would also be excellent served for brunch.

The original recipe did not call for mushrooms, but my husband absolutely loves mushrooms, and I also like them a lot, so I added them in. I chose to use white pepper instead of black pepper, and more fresh thyme by far. Nutmeg is another addition I have found excellent with these flavors. 

Obviously, the better your pie crust, the better the overall flavors will be. I heartily suggest making Never Fail Pie Pastry. It makes 3 or 4 single pie crust portions, but the remainder can be divided into zip-top bags and frozen until needed. It is simple to thaw for an hour and use for any pie-making needs. It is preferable to use a third of the recipe, for a 10-inch sized pie portion, but you can make do with a fourth of the recipe for a 9-inch sized pie if needed, as I did here.  
Leek & Mushroom Galette with Goat Cheese
Leek & Mushroom Galette with Goat Cheese


If you have never used leeks before, they have a far milder flavor than onions. They are of the same genus allium as are onions, shallots, garlic and chives. Instead of forming into bulbs, as with onions or shallots, leeks form a tightly bundled sheath of leaves. In order to keep the lower parts white, they are "trenched" with soil piled up around their base while growing. This also leads to the real possibility of finding mud or grit inside between some of the leaves.

When using leeks, use only the white and lighter green portions, as the dark green portions are much tougher and bitter flavored. The tops can be saved to flavor stock. Once the root end is cut off, and there is a nice white and light green cylinder, cut the cylinder down its length and then fan the leaves under running water to release and clean out any mud or grit. Once clean, slice them across the cylinder into ⅛ to ½-inch pieces, as needed.
Well browned mushrooms - Leeks sliced and sauteed
Well browned mushrooms - Leeks sliced and sauteed


A galette (for this purpose) is just a pie made in a "rustic" manner, meaning "free-form," not placed into a pie plate. The dough is rolled out to a diameter that will accommodate having a 2 to 3-inch border folded up, pleating as needed, to cover the edges of the filling. This can be done with sweet or savory fillings, though the amount of liquids must be kept low, with no deep pan to contain them. 

Leek & Mushroom Galette with Goat Cheese

Serves 4 - 6 as a meal; 8 - 10 as an appetizer 
Leek & Mushroom Galette with Goat Cheese
Leek & Mushroom Galette with Goat Cheese

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
¼ teaspoon salt
6 large leeks (5 - 6 cups, sliced) leeks,
    white and light green parts only
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves 
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 large egg, beaten lightly
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1 pie pastry for 10-inch pie
¾ cup goat cheese crumbles

Heat a large skillet and add in the 2 teaspoons of oil and butter. Add the sliced mushrooms and sprinkle the ¼ teaspoon salt over the mushrooms. Saute, tossing frequently over medium heat until all the liquids have evaporated and the mushrooms are a deep golden color. Pour the mushrooms into a bowl and set aside. Return the skillet to the heat.

Add in the 2 tablespoons butter and the leeks and thyme leaves, adding in ½ cup of water. Cook over low heat for about 15 minutes until the leeks are very tender. Raise the heat slightly and add in the white wine, cooking quickly until it is mostly evaporated. Stir in the cream and cook quickly until reduced slightly, about 3 minutes. Season with the ½ teaspoon salt, the white pepper and nutmeg, then set the pan aside to cool slightly.

Reserve aside 1 tablespoon of the beaten egg. Stir the remaining egg, 2 tablespoons of the parsley and the reserved mushrooms into the leek mixture.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. On a clean surface strewn with flour, roll out the pastry to a 14-inch circle. No need for perfect edges. Set the dough onto a baking sheet or pizza pan that will accommodate a 10-inch diameter galette. Pour the leek and mushroom mixture into the center, leaving at least 2 or 3 inch border of dough all around. Sprinkle the goat cheese over top. Begin lifting the edges of the dough over the edges of the filling, pleating the dough as needed to make a rough circle. Brush the outside of the pastry with the reserved egg. Bake the galette for about 30 to 35 minutes, until golden. Cool slightly and sprinkle with remaining parsley before cutting and serving. 

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 and sign up for my Newsletter.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Stuffed Peppers and a New Seed Bread

Long, long ago, I made a recipe for the filling for Stuffed Peppers, and have been using that recipe ever since. I make them at least once a year, because we love them, and they are a tried and true recipe. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the recipe as it stands, I chose to make them one day recently but did not consult my old recipe at all.

Over these many years since I started making Stuffed Peppers, I have become more conscious of what I am using in a recipe, and more recently still, I have tried to lessen, if not eliminate ketchup. You see, my husband has a true ketchup addiction. Since I have known him, it is a rare meal where most everything is not covered in ketchup. When we would order fast food (only on road trips to somewhere), he would get at minimum 15 to 20 packets of ketchup to use on both burger and fries. It was not uncommon for him to use at least a half cup worth per meal. That is excessive, in my book.

Stuffed Bell Peppers
Stuffed Bell Peppers

So last year when he had some serious health issues centering on digestion, I offered to cook healthy foods, if he was willing to eat them, and forego ketchup on every single food. He has done excellently. Only recently, more than a year later, has he crept back, now and again, mostly while we are traveling, to using it at all. At home, no. So, with all that in mind, I hate like anything to re-introduce too much ketchup into his daily regimen, for fear that the "taste" for it will return. I have revised so many recipes, using tomato sauce, sometimes adding a little stevia for sweetness, vinegar for tartness. I knew that my recipe for Stuffed Peppers called for ketchup, but couldn't recall how much. So, when I started assembling things for the recipe, I did not consult my old recipe at all. It was interesting to see that I went for the same general flavors, but in differing amounts. This time, I used more rice, but a whole grain red rice, and less ketchup. There are a couple of other differences. Altogether, these were excellent, and not so different in flavor.

Stuffed Bell Peppers

Stuffed Bell Peppers
Stuffed Bell Peppers

Makes 4

2 cups cooked brown or red rice (about ¾ cup dry)
8 ounces Portobello Mushrooms, chopped finely
1 tablespoon olive oil, more if needed
½ teaspoon salt
1 pound lean ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
2 - 4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
⅔ cup finely shredded carrot
⅔ cup finely chopped celery
⅔ cup minced green pepper (use pepper tops)
½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
¾ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce 
½ cup ketchup
4 bell peppers
Sweet Sour Sauce, such as LaChoy's

Cook the rice ahead of time. Brown rice or red rice generally follows similar rules of thumb for cooking: twice the volume of water to rice and about 50 minutes to cook. Add in ¾ teaspoon salt while cooking. Once cooked through, if there is remaining water, drain it off and let the rice cool.

Heat a large skillet and add in the oil. Add the chopped mushrooms and the ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are definitely browned. Turn out to a plate and set aside.

While the mushrooms are cooking, work with the peppers. Select peppers that have four lumps at the bottom, so they will stand up on their own. Cut off the tops of the bell peppers and separate any usable bits of the bell pepper from the tops and chop. Discard stems. Remove any membranes and seeds inside the pepper cups. Heat a large saucepan of water to boil and place the pepper cups in the water to cook, just until they start going an olive color, then remove quickly. Set them into a casserole.

Add in the hamburger meat to the skillet, with more oil only if needed, and cook, breaking apart to very small bits. Add in the onion and garlic and cook until they are softened. Add in the chopped bell pepper bits from the tops, with the carrot and celery, thyme and ¾ teaspoon salt. Add the Worcestershire, ketchup, rice and mushrooms and stir well. Pack this mixture very tightly into the bell pepper cups. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Top the pepper filling with 1 - 2 tablespoons of Sweet Sour Sauce and bake them for about 30 to 40 minutes, until well heated through. 


On to the Bread!

Five Seed Malted Bread
Five Seed Malted Bread
A little over a week ago, I finally got a Five-Seed No-Knead Bread perfected. I was so pleased, since it took me four separate tries to get it just right.

Similarly, I have been making seeded loaves of bread from Paul Hollywood's cookbooks (bought after watching the Great British Baking Show). They have all turned out nicely and taste absolutely wonderful. So I went on to try some revisions and make a loaf of my own. Well, while the bread came out absolutely beautiful, it was dense and very hard. Dense is okay, up to a point. Though I love chewy bread, this was a bit over the top, and hard to chew! So, back to the drawing board with that one, also. But then I got thinking. In truth, I had already changed the recipe I was basing my bread on. Since Paul's recipe calls for "granary flour," and that is not locally available, I had created my own mixture to approximate granary flour or malt flour, based solely on his description of:
". . . a nutty taste and . . . slightly darker in colour. It is essentially a white flour with added flakes of malted wheat."
Five Seed Malted Bread
Five Seed Malted Bread
In approximating this flour, I used bread flour, plus a smaller amount of whole grain flour and an even smaller amount of lighter colored malted grain. Found whole anywhere there are beer-making supplies, or already ground in such places as King Arthur Flour site, this malted grain is called diastatic malt, and helps (in bread making) to give a boost to rising and also giving color to the baking loaf, if used in small amounts. To be safe, I also added a small amount of gluten for added structure.

Aside from this change to the recipe, while I really loved the beautiful way he created a sticky paste of soaked flax and sesame seeds to coat the outside of the bread, it was an added step that (IMHO) didn't help, particularly while toasting, as the whole coating would tend to lift off. Instead, I added the sesame seeds with the rest of the seeds into the loaf. And that is another change. While Paul's' loaf called for adding all those seeds into the loaf AFTER the first rise, it was nearly impossible to incorporate them without re-kneading the loaf. I chose to add them in at the end of the original kneading process. I added just a bit more water to the recipe, to accommodate a longer period with the thirsty seeds in contact with the dough. It made kneading a little more challenging. Probably would have been easier in the stand mixer, but I had chosen to knead by hand. 

Ultimately, this time I am extremely happy with the outcome of my bread. It may not be as pretty without that coating, but it is dense with seeds, though not hard. It tastes wonderful, and all those seeds (a whole lot more than what went into the Five-Seed No-Knead Bread!) are beautifully incorporated. 

You will need a kitchen scale for this recipe. I did measure out the seed quantities in cup measures, but the flour is easier to weigh out in grams.

Five Seed Malted Bread

Makes one loaf
Five Seed Malted Bread
Five Seed Malted Bread

335 grams bread flour
135 grams whole wheat flour
15 grams diastatic malt powder
13 grams (2 tablespoons) gluten
5 grams instant yeast
10 grams fine salt
40 grams lard
350 milliliters (1½ cups) water, plus or minus 2 tablespoons as needed

70 grams (½ cup) raw pumpkin seed kernels
70 grams (½ cup) raw sunflower kernels
50 grams (⅓ cup) sesame seeds
50 grams (⅓ cup) flax seeds
50 grams (⅓ cup) poppy seeds
Combine the seeds together in a bowl and stir to distribute evenly. Set aside.

In a large bowl, or bowl of a heavy duty stand mixer with dough hook, place the first 4 ingredients and stir briefly. Add the yeast to one side and the salt to the other side, and add in the (slightly softened) lard. Pour in most of the water and mix until all ingredients are well moistened. If this does not happen, add in a bit of the remaining water until you have a soft dough. Grease a clean surface and turn the bread out to knead by hand for 8 to 10 minutes. If kneading in the mixer, knead for 6 to 8 minutes. At the end of the kneading time, add in the seeds all at once and continue to knead until incorporated evenly. Place the dough into a greased bowl, turning once so that a greased surface is on top and cover with plastic wrap. Set the bowl in a 70 - 75 degree area and allow to rise until doubled, 1 - 3 hours. Temperature is better on the cool side, as it allows for development of more flavor, but will take longer.

Once risen, where a light finger press will puff right back up easily, turn out again to a clean, oiled surface. Flatten slightly into an approximate square and roll the dough tightly, tucking in the ends as needed, to make a nice tight loaf. Set the loaf, seam side down, onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Coat the loaf with a fine sheen of oil and cover with the plastic film. Set to rise again until doubled in size.

Set one oven rack at second to bottom shelf and one rack in the topmost position. Set a wide, oven safe pan (fry pan or cake pan) on the top rack. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Have one cup of boiling water at hand. Slash the top of the loaf three times diagonally, using a very sharp knife or bakers lame. Place the baking sheet with the bread in the lower oven rack, then carefully pour the boiling water into the pan on the top shelf. Time the loaf for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake for another 25 to 35 minutes, or until the internal temperature is at least 200 degrees F. Remove from oven to a rack to cool completely before slicing.


Revisions as of February 2020:

I love this bread. Truly, it is one of the best, ever. But.

I often had a hard time getting it to truly rise. We live is a hot climate now, so there should be no excuse; at least I cannot blame the temperature. I wondered about the seeds. Are they possibly cutting gluten strands and making it more difficult to rise? 

Then one evening I was watching some short YouTube shows on making bread, and one of the many I watched was making a bread with seeds in it. Instead of leaving them all whole, he pureed half the seeds to be used along with the full amount of water the recipe called for. This liquid was added to the dry ingredients and his bread rose beautifully. I opted to try this out. I have now been mixing up all the seeds called for in the recipe, then pouring half of them in the blender along with most of the water called for. The resultant slurry goes into the dry ingredients and I proceed to the kneading. The remaining seeds are still kneaded in for the last two minutes of kneading - - - which is another thing . . .

Kneading and the "Windowpane Test"

Recipes often say to knead until the dough passes the windowpane test, "about 10 minutes," or "around 12 minutes." And whether the dough passed the windowpane test or not (usually not, particularly with dense, whole grain breads), I would proceed with the recipe. And usually, the bread would not rise properly and would bake to a nice, flat, loaf.

The Windowpane Test
The Windowpane Test
"What is the "windowpane test?" you might ask. The "windowpane happens when the dough has been kneaded sufficiently for the gluten strands to fully develop. To check for this windowpane, pull off a small amount of dough and begin stretching it between both hands. The dough should hold, without tearing, to stretch to a thin area about 3 to 4 inches square, thin enough to be able to see light through it. With white breads, this is easily accomplished in the generally stated 10 to 12 minutes. With heavy, whole grain breads, or with this bread with a lot of heavy seeds to support, it can take longer. A lot longer in some cases.

So, about the time when I started making the seed slurry to make this bread, I also decided one day to knead the dough until I could see that it passed the windowpane test. This took (kneading by hand) TWENTY MINUTES! I kept kneading, kept checking and it took a full 20 minutes. Wow. And with that, I got the most lovely rise and the biggest loaf I had ever gotten, and believe me, I have made this bread more times than I can say, at this point, as we really love it. 

Use these two new methods to make this bread and I am pretty sure you'll be happier with the results.

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 and sign up for my Newsletter.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Flautas with Tomatillo Sauce for Dinner

My son and his significant other were here to visit at the end of July, and one of his food requests was Flautas. I lived in Guatemala during the 1970s to late 1981, and had all four of my children while living there. In Guatemala, at least at that time, these things that are called "flautas" in Mexican restaurants in the U.S., were called "Mexican Tacos." Mexican tacos were always rolled into tubes in a corn tortilla, then fried. 
Flautas (meaning "flutes") or Mexican Tacos

In Guatemala, conversely, "tacos" were never fried, but were just a fresh corn tortilla with some kind of shredded meat (chicken or beef, usually) and possibly some fresh onion and parsley folded into the tortilla with the meat. On the table would be at minimum two choices of salsa to put onto the meat, sometimes up to 4 different kinds. Some would be tomato based salsas, some tomatillo based, some would be hot, some not. And usually there would be either pickled jalapeƱo peppers and/or freshly smashed chiltepe chiles (known in Mexican groceries as Chiltepin or Piquin) in lime juice. There was always something for everyone to flavor their tacos to their heart's desire and heat tolerance. They were amazing, and amazingly good!
Tomatillos in Husk
Tomatillos in Husk

But, this blog is on the topic of "flautas," or Mexican Tacos. I found a recipe long, long ago, and the flautas turn out so good that I haven't bothered to change it much. In the past, I have made an avocado based sauce to dip the flautas in, but this time I wanted to try out a tomatillo sauce. In case you have not used tomatillos, they are small husked fruits that look a lot like green tomatoes, once the husk is removed. To buy them, either peel back the husk a bit to look, or at least feel the fruit inside to make sure it is firm and smooth. When the husk is removed, the fruit has a bit of a sticky substance on them, so don't be surprised when fingers pick up that stickiness. Tomatillos are also tart like a green tomato, so they can be used as a substitute, if necessary.
Flautas with tomatillo sauce for dinner
Flautas with tomatillo sauce for dinner, with rice, black beans & guacamole

I knew the flautas would turn out well, so I focused on making a tomatillo sauce that would be pleasing to the palate and a good pairing with the flautas themselves. In my mind, I felt that using a Poblano pepper would add a little heat without being too much, and of course, onion, garlic and cilantro. Salt and pepper are a must, as well as oregano, which turns up in surprising places in Guatemalan cooking. Allspice is also used often, so that would also go in. My idea was to broil all the vegetables until browned or blackened (in the case of the Poblano pepper). Whether or not to cook the sauce afterwards was a question to be answered later.

Tomatillo Sauce
Tomatillo Sauce
Tomatillo Sauce

Makes about 1¾ cups sauce

8 medium tomatillos, husks removed
1 Poblano pepper
1 medium onion, in wedges
3 large cloves fresh garlic
1 small bunch cilantro with stems
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground allspice

Heat the broiler and have a rack on the second shelf down from top. Rinse the tomatillos, then set them onto a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil. Place the Poblano pepper on the sheet as well. Place under the broiler and broil the pepper until it is blackened and blistered all over, turning as needed, then remove to a zip top bag to steam until cool enough to handle. Once the tomatillos have little black or browned spots, turn over to brown the other side. Once done on both sides, remove them to a blender container, using tongs.

Separate the onion into individual bits and set them onto the baking sheet, along with the garlic cloves. Allow the garlic to turn brown on both sides NOT black!), then remove to blender container. With tongs, toss the onion pieces periodically, until they have some blackened edges and a heavenly smell, then remove them to the blender container.

Once the Poblano pepper is cool enough to handle, remove all the blackened skins. Rinse of any remaining skins, then split the pepper open and remove the stem, seeds and membranes. Place the pepper with the other ingredients in the blender container, along with the remaining ingredients. Blend the mixture to a puree and serve. No need to cook it, it tastes great just as is!  If serving later, store in a sealed container in the refrigerator.


Flautas just fried
Flautas just fried
When it came to making the flautas, in the past I had always first cooked a whole chicken until done, then removed and discarded all skin and bones, then shredded the chicken meat. This time, with most every grocery store selling rotisserie chickens, I opted to use a rotisserie chicken and save some time. The rest of the recipe is simple and easy, though these flautas call for first frying the tortilla, to make it pliable but not breakable when being rolled, then filling and rolling and frying again, until lightly golden and crisp. It is helpful to use toothpicks to secure the edges until the flautas are fried and can hold their shape.

How many flautas can be made from a recipe using one chicken will depend entirely on how large your tortillas are. I had small ones, about 6-inches in diameter, and got about 30 little Flautas from the recipe. Using larger 8-inch tortillas, you might get 20 or so. Be aware that the filling needs to be scant, or it is impossible to roll and secure the tortilla for frying. After making a few, you will see about how much filling can be safely used per tortilla.

As I truly hate deep frying anything, this recipe is a real chore for me, and I prefer to shallow fry rather than deep fry.



Makes 20 to 30, depending on size

1 rotisserie chicken
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (4-ounce) can mild chopped green chilies
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
25 - 35 corn tortillas
vegetable oil, for frying

Remove the meat from the rotisserie chicken, discarding skin and bones. Shred the meat into long shreds and set aside.

Heat a skillet and add the 2 tablespoons olive oil. Fry the onion in the oil until very tender. Add in the tomatoes, green chilies and garlic, cooking for a couple of minutes to meld flavors. Add in the shredded chicken, cumin, salt and pepper and toss well to blend all the seasonings with the chicken. Set aside to cool slightly.

Heat a medium skillet over medium heat and add in about ½-inch of oil. Heat the oil to quite hot, but not smoking, then one at a time, place a tortilla in the oil for a few seconds on each side, until pliable but not browned, then remove to paper toweling to drain. Begin filling each fried tortilla with some of the filling mixture, rolling and securing with a toothpick to hold the edge closed. Add more oil to the pan in small amounts, as needed to keep the level at about ½-inch deep. Once done with the tortillas, fry the rolled flautas, turning as needed until they are golden brown. Remove them to paper toweling. Serve warm with Tomatillo Sauce.

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 and sign up for my Newsletter.

Monday, August 13, 2018

For the Love of Seeds

I had recently been trying out some of Paul Hollywood's breads, and three loaves contained sizable amounts of seeds. I really love seeds in things; pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, poppy seeds. These loaves of Paul's contained loads of them, and the breads are so fabulously delicious. I tried combining and making a seeded bread of my own, but to date I had not gotten a loaf I was pleased with, enough to share.
Five Seed No-Knead Bread
Five Seed No-Knead Bread

Then a few weeks back I got the idea to try making a No-Knead bread (read about No-Knead Bread here) with seeds. My first try also used whole grain flour, which is always going to make it more challenging. The result was quite flat. Tasty. But flat. I gave it a second try, using only white bread flour and loads of seeds. Flat again.  

Five Seed No Knead Bread
Five Seed No Knead Bread
By this time I was getting wise to the trickiness of it. With No-Knead bread, there is a balance of water to other ingredients. That second loaf turned out flat as it just never rose enough, due to the fact that the dough was way too dry. So again I tried making the bread, and this time I soaked the seeds for an hour first. I drained them when I was ready to assemble the dough, but using the old amount of water turned out a TOO wet dough, and this time it rose better, but was still too flat, this time because it just was too runny and soft to hold its shape.

In this case, the fourth time was the charm. To get the balance I wanted, I soaked the seeds for an hour, then drained them. Then, instead of the full 1⅝ cup of water used in plain No Knead Bread, or even 1½ cups, I took out two more tablespoons of water from the 1½ cups and used only that much. And this time? Perfect. I could already tell from how the dough looked when I first mixed it. It was shaggy, but wet enough to be able to incorporate all the ingredients.

The next morning, when I checked the dough, it had risen beautifully, was nicely wobbly and full of holes. In the photos here below, the left photo is just after mixing, and on the right, with the bowl tilted, you can see the holes where it is stretching away from the top of the bowl.
Dough just mixed - Dough risen following day
Dough just mixed - Dough risen following day
From start to finish, this time the bread responded perfectly, and it rose beautifully once formed. In the photo below, you can see that once the dough was formed into a nice tight ball, it kept its shape, rather than spreading outwards. It rose very nicely by the time 2 hours had passed and I was ready to bake the loaf. I hit the side of the hot pot when tossing the dough in, but even so, though slightly lopsided, it came out great, rising to perfection. 

Just formed and then ready to bake
Just formed, left, and then ready to bake, right

All the loaves tasted good. That was never the problem. This time it tasted great, but it always tastes better when all the steps work out as they should, and satisfaction is based on more than just the flavor. If you learn to make No Knead Bread and you love seeds in your bread, then this bread just has to be on your list of things to try.

A caveat to those who live in a very humid climate. Our climate is more dry, with only about 25% humidity on most days. If you live with lots of humidity, the amount of water needed might be far less. If living in high humidity, reserve aside yet another 2 tablespoons of the total water, mixing first without it, and ascertaining if the dough is too dry without it. Remember that the seeds are holding water, even though drained, and will release moisture into the dough while fermenting. If the dough is too dry, add more water only until all the ingredients are moistened.

Five-Seed No-Knead Bread
Five Seed No Knead Bread
Five Seed No Knead Bread

Makes one loaf

3 cups (366 grams) bread flour
1¼ teaspoon (8 grams) salt
¾ teaspoon (2 grams) yeast

3½ tablespoons (30 grams) raw sunflower seed kernels
3 tablespoons (30 grams) raw pumpkin seed kernels
1½ tablespoons (15 grams) golden flax seeds
1½ tablespoons (15 grams) raw, unhulled sesame seeds
1 tablespoon (10 grams) poppy seeds

1½ cup water, minus 2 tablespoons (325 ml)

* Remember that this bread must be mixed up at least 12 hours and even better 18 hours before you will work with it.

One hour before mixing up the dough, set all the seeds into a bowl together and cover by at least one inch with water. Set aside for an hour.

Measure the flour, salt and yeast into a glass, plastic or ceramic bowl. Drain the seeds well, discarding the water. Pour drained seeds into the flour, along with the measured 1½ cups minus two tablespoons of water. Stir with a wooden spoon until a shaggy dough is formed. No need to stir vigorously, or for any length of time. Cover with plastic wrap and set the bowl in a warm room temperature place to rise overnight. If the house is exceptionally cold, you might set the bowl in the oven with the oven light on. If the oven light makes the oven too hot, leave the door cracked open to allow excess heat to escape. 

The next day, check that the dough has risen noticeably and there are loads of bubbles dotting the entire surface.  The dough should be very wet-looking and jiggly when shaken slightly. If it has not yet reached this stage, leave it to rise for an hour or two more.

When the dough is ready to work, heavily dust a clean surface with flour. Turn the dough out onto the floured surface and lightly toss it to coat with the flour. Cover with the plastic wrap and let rest 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with a smooth, clean kitchen towel - no terrycloth! Coat a 12 inch circle on the cloth with cornmeal or bran. After the dough has rested, form the dough into a tight ball, with the seams tucked underneath. Set this ball in the center of the circle of cornmeal or bran. If the top of the dough is sticky, sprinkle with a little more cornmeal or bran, then cover with another clean, smooth towel. Set in a warm room temperature area and allow to rise for two hours.

Thirty minutes before baking, set a 4 to 6 quart, heavy cast iron or enameled cast iron pot with lid on, into the oven. Set the oven to 475 degrees and turn the oven on. Let the pot heat along with the oven for 30 minutes.

Once these 30 minutes have elapsed, carefully remove the pot from the oven with ample hot pads or oven mitts. Set the lid aside. Bring the tray with the risen loaf nearby and uncover. Slide a hand underneath the towel holding the loaf and lift, quickly inverting the loaf into the extremely hot pot. Cover the pot and return to the oven. Time the loaf for 30 minutes. After thirty minutes, remove the lid, leaving the loaf in the oven to bake for a further 10 to 20 minutes. When finished, Remove the pot from the oven and use a long handled spatula to lift the loaf out of the pot to a rack to cool. Allow it to cool at least 1 hour before slicing. 

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 and sign up for my Newsletter.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Mouth Watering Scones for Breakfast

To any out there who believe all scones are too dry, I beg to differ. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, of course, but my scones are pretty much always amazingly good: lightly moist, tender and delicate, needing nothing at all on them to enjoy.
Buckwheat Scones with Romano Figs Thyme & Walnuts
Buckwheat Scones with Romano, Figs, Thyme & Walnuts

This morning I had a little brainstorm. I had no bread left in the house (I know - SHOCK!), so I was going to make some scones for breakfast to go with our weekend splurge of bacon and cheese omelets. I wanted to use mostly a whole grain or seed of some kind. I already knew that both whole Kamut flour and whole buckwheat flour (no relation to wheat whatsoever) make very delicate scones. I opted for buckwheat. Then, what other flavors to use? I have fresh thyme growing outside, so that would be one flavor. I didn't have much cheese, but I had a chunk of Romano, which I love, so I got that out. For a touch of sweetness, I used dried white figs. And nuts. Gotta have nuts! I used walnuts this time, despite the fact that my husband doesn't like them. Sometimes, I just need to make myself happy too. And guess what? He loved the scones. There are so many wonderful flavors packed into them, the nuts made no difference to him.

Lovely Texture in the Scones
Lovely Texture in the Scones

Lots of things were going into these scones, so I was kind of holding my breath to see how the dough would look, how they would bake. Well, the dough came together perfectly. Perfect texture for forming. They cut perfectly. They baked perfectly. The aromas while baking were mouthwatering. And the flavors? O - M - G! These are absolutely my favorite scones since I came up with my Earl Grey Currant Scones with Lavender & Pecans, over two years ago. While I love all the scones I have made, those last were the reigning favorite. Now I have a true contender. 

I added a little sugar to the scone dough. Usually I use only 2 tablespoons, though this time I opted for 3 tablespoons to give balance to the saltiness of the cheese. This was perfect, and there is barely over a teaspoon of sugar per scone. Not that onerous a portion. We do not use any butter or jam on our scones, as they are truly perfect alone. There is just under 2 teaspoons of butter per scone in the dough. What with the cheese and the cream, there is plenty of richness in there already, and with the mix of all the flavors, nothing more was needed. They were that good! I do brush the tops of the scones with cream, then sprinkle on some sugar, just to add a tiny sparkle and crunch. You may opt to do this or not, as you prefer. The added amount of cream in doing this is negligible. I just use whatever is left in the measuring cup when I measure out the cream for the recipe. Some always stays in the cup. I use this, sometimes needing a few drops more, but most often not.

Parchment lined pan - Scones patted out and cut - Brushing with cream
Parchment lined pan - Scones patted out and cut - Brushing with cream
I have avoided using dried figs in scones or anything else. Generally, all that are available are dried Black Mission Figs, and somehow, I just do not like them. I discovered, however, that I really do like dried white figs. I love eating them right out of the bag. Since I ordered a large bag of them recently, I thought I would give them a try in these scones, and I must say, they were an excellent addition; just another little bit of sweetness into the mix. The thyme was not at all overwhelming, but just adding a pleasant herbal note. Altogether perfect.

Buckwheat Scones with Romano Cheese, Dried Figs, Thyme & Walnuts

Makes 8 scones
Buckwheat Scones with Romano Cheese, Dried Figs, Thyme & Walnuts
Buckwheat Scones with Cheese, Figs, Thyme & Walnuts

1¼ cup (125 grams) buckwheat flour
¾ cup / 105 grams all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2.6 ounces / 75 grams Romano cheese, grated on large holed grater
5 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter 
¾ cup / 3.15 ounces / 88 grams dried white figs, chopped
½ cup / 1.45 ounces / 40 grams walnuts, coarsely chopped
¾ cup / 6 ounces / 180 ml heavy cream
sugar for sprinkling 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees with rack in 2nd or 3rd shelf from bottom. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

In a large bowl, combine the buckwheat flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, thyme leaves and Romano cheese. Toss to distribute the ingredients evenly. Cut in the cold butter as for pie dough, until the mixture is in coarse crumbles. Add in the chopped figs and walnuts and toss to distribute in the mixture. Drizzle on the cream, reserving some behind, in case it is not all needed. Toss the mixture quickly with a fork to moisten evenly, without actually stirring. If most of the mixture is already moistened, and it is possible to bring the dough together into a fairly stiff ball without too much handling, then do not add more cream. If there remains too much of the dry mixture, drizzle in the cream by bits until all the dry parts have incorporated. 

Oil a clean surface and turn the dough out onto the surface. Bring the dough together into a neat ball with as little handling as is possible, then flatten into about an 8-inch diameter circle. With a long chef's knife, cut across the circle four times, to create 8 scone wedges of equal size. With the knife, lift the scones onto the prepared parchment lined pan, keeping them at least an inch apart, as they will grow and spread during baking.

Use any remaining cream in the measuring cup to brush the tops of the scones, then sprinkle the tops with a little more sugar. Bake the scones for about 16 minutes, until golden and set. 

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 and sign up for my Newsletter.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Best Bread Ever

I am writing today about No-Knead Bread. I may be coming late to this party, though I have been making this bread for 7 years now. 

The first time I ever heard of No-Knead Bread, was at the Farmers' Market here in town, in 2011. It is a small affair, as we are a small town, but there are interesting things going on here, nonetheless. I saw a lady with a basket of bread that looked to be artisanal in style, with a nice crusty exterior, and promising to be nicely full of holes inside. The sign on her basket read, "No-Knead Bread." I asked what that was, and she gave me a sketchy account, advising that I look it up online. I bought a loaf.
No Knead Bread
No Knead Bread

Once I tasted the loaf, I went online immediately. The first thing I came upon was a recipe from "The Minimalist," written by Mark Bittman in 2006, about the bread made famous (then why am I only NOW finding out about it!?!?) by Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery. I tried the bread recipe cited by Bittman immediately. Well, as immediately as I could get my hands on an enameled cast iron pot. I found out the hard way that the knob or handle on the lid must be metal, to stand the high oven temperatures. When I borrowed my sister-in-law's 4 quart Le Creuset, with a resin knob on the lid, it exploded in the oven!

Script "L" as Lid Handle
Script "L" as Lid Handle
The bread came out great, but I went in search of an enameled cast iron pot of my own, making sure it had a metal handle on the lid. It was a signature series Lodge enameled cast iron Dutch oven, with the handle made into a script shaped letter "L". This pot has been used so much and so often that the insides are completely blackened, never to be white again, but it keeps on working just fine, no matter what gets cooked inside! Supposedly, you can use Pyrex or other oven safe pots, and also clay pots. I do not own a clay baker and am afraid to subject any glassware to the intensely high heat in the oven needed for this bread. 

Meanwhile, I also bought Jim Lahey's book, "My Bread." I wanted to know everything I could find out about it. When it comes down to it though, I just love the plain, original No-Knead Bread best of all. I made the loaf with cheese chunks in it. I made a loaf with bacon in it. I made a loaf using Guinness Stout and buttermilk. Another with Walnuts. All great. I just liked the original best, and have made it more times than I can count.

What, Exactly, is No-Knead Bread?

Over the course of many years, I have learned over and over that flour, in and of itself, is rather bland and tasteless. Witness the plain white bread in the grocery store. What gives flavor to white or whole wheat flour alike is time, and some form of fermentation, whether warm, cold or a combination. This process also unlocks some hard to digest goodness from the grain. Sourdough bread has been famous forever, and the particular flavors from sourdough starters comes from long, slow fermenting. If you don't care for sourdough bread (my husband is not fond of it), just understand that rather than keeping a starter going for years, decades or more, No-Knead Bread only ferments (in the main) for 12 to 18 hours, or overnight. This is enough to get the dough going, fermentation underway, and then it is shaped and baked. The goodness in the flour is unlocked, and the bread is just fantastic.
Rough dough in PM then Risen and bubbly in the AM
Rough dough in PM then Risen and bubbly in the AM

The key to this bread is in the process. A rough and shaggy dough is mixed up the night before you plan to make the bread. A quick stir to get all the ingredients dampened is all you need do. Cover and set in a place at least 70 degrees, but not more than about 75, and let the magic happen. What occurs is that the tiny ¼-teaspoon of yeast that is added to give the fermentation a kick-start, takes over on its own, and in the morning, after about 12 -18 hours, you will see a very jiggly-wet dough that oozes to one side or other of the bowl when tilted, and a whole lot of bubbles dotting the surface. In this way, you have the time and fermentation that has taken place and flavors are developed. The next step is setting the dough to rise and then baking it.
No Knead Bread
No Knead Bread

The reason the enameled cast iron pot works so well is first of all its weight. The nice, thick, heavy pot holds heat. This kind of heat mimics the heat in the kinds of ovens used in bakeries, and the method we sometimes try to copy by spraying water into the oven or setting ice cubes in a container on the oven floor. The risen dough is flipped into the screaming hot pot, the lid replaced, trapping steam from this very wet dough. The steam makes that nice crisp-chewy exterior, and the heat expands the loaf into beautiful inner holes. 

The Process

As shown in the photo above, the dough is mixed in the evening around 7 or 8 PM (if it is terribly cold outside, it may need to start around 6 PM or even earlier, in order to rise enough by morning), then in the morning will have risen and be evenly dotted with bubbles and be very jiggly.

When ready in the morning, you will need a clean surface on which to work, sprinkled liberally with flour. The dough is very wet and needs quick and light handling. 
  1. Turn the dough out onto the floured surface, then toss quickly together to coat. Sprinkle with more flour and cover for 15 minutes with plastic wrap or a clean flour sack towel (any smooth towel, not terrycloth!). 
  2. In this time period, have ready a baking sheet with a flour sack towel or clean, smooth kitchen towel placed on it. Liberally sprinkle an area about 12-inches in diameter with cornmeal or wheat bran. Once the 15 minutes have passed,  quickly toss the dough into a ball shape and set with the seam tucked underneath onto the center of the cornmeal or bran strewn towel.
  3. Sprinkle the top of the dough with more cornmeal or bran, then cover with another clean, smooth towel - or, if using a flour sack towel, which tend to be large, put the dough onto one end, then flip the other end of the towel over top.
  4. Let the dough rise for 2 hours.
  5. Thirty minutes before the 2 hours are elapsed, place your enameled cast iron pot with lid on, into the oven, then set the oven to pre-heat to 475 degrees for the remaining half-hour of rising time.
  6. Once the half hour is elapsed, remove the pot from the oven, being exceedingly careful, as it is screaming hot! Remove the lid and set aside. Immediately, lift the cover back from the risen dough. Slide your hand underneath the cloth to support the dough, then lift and invert the dough (bottom side upwards) into the hot pot. Quickly replace the lid.
  7. Place the pot back into the oven and set a timer for 30 minutes. 
  8. At thirty minutes, remove the lid and bake the bread uncovered for another 8 to twenty minutes.
  9. Use a wide spatula to lift the bread out of the exceedingly hot pot and set on a rack to cool. 
  10. Listen to the bread "sing." It will pop, crack, whistle and otherwise make lovely sounds as it cools. 
The entire process of mixing the dough, working with it briefly in the morning and getting into pot to bake takes about 15 minutes in its entirety. It is needful to be there in the morning, while the dough is rising and baking, but without any more hands-on time. 

Things I Have Learned Over Time

  • When mixing the dough, the recipe calls for 1½ to 1⅝ (or 1½ cups + 2 tablespoons) cups of cool water. Understand, the wetter the dough, the more hole structure will form in the finished bread. If you live in a very humid environment, your flour may already be retaining some humidity, and you may not need the extra two tablespoons of water. Making this bread in South Dakota, where it is far less humid than, say, Florida or Louisiana, I have needed the extra two tablespoons of water every time. The bread is great no matter which way. Just experiment to see how much water works best for you.

  • I use a baking sheet to set the towel on for the rising period. This is never stated in the original recipe, but if you have a smaller kitchen, this allows you to move the bread out of your way if you need to work in that space. I cannot begin to state how this has helped me in past!
  • Jim Lahey's recipe does not call for a 15 minute rest period before shaping the loaf and setting onto the cornmeal strewn cloth. Mark Bittman's recipe did. I have done it both ways, many times, and I will say that for whatever reason, the 15 minute rest makes the bread grow higher in the end.
  • Jim Lahey has the oven set to 500 degrees. For me this is just too hot. I do not care for blackened loaves, though most of the photos in Lahey's book are at least slightly blackened. My husband will not touch a blackened loaf. I use a 475 degree oven.
  • Lahey has the initial bake with lid on the pot for 30 minutes, but once the lid is taken off, he says to bake a further 15 to 30 minutes. I tried once to bake a further 15 minutes, and it was already starting to blacken in spots, so I removed it. After that, I have ALWAYS baked for only 8 further minutes. This is entirely subjective!

No-Knead Bread
No Knead Bread, just baked
No Knead Bread, just baked

Makes one loaf

3 cups bread flour
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
1½ to 1⅝ cups cool water
Cornmeal, wheat bran and or flour for dusting

The evening before making the bread, place the flour, yeast and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the water and using a wooden spoon, stir to a shaggy dough,  just moistening all the dry ingredients. Cover the bowl with plastic film, or a plate or a lid and set in a warm (not hot) place to ferment overnight.

After 12 to 18 hours (or even up to 24 if it is very cold), the dough should have risen, having bubbles dot the entire surface and the dough should be very jiggly upon moving the bowl. (See photos above).

Dust a clean surface with plenty of flour, then scrape the dough out onto the floured surface, as shown in the first photo below. Quickly bring up edges and then sprinkle with more flour if needed, covering the dough, allowing it to rest for a further 15 minutes, shown in photo 2. While the rest period is underway, place a clean, smooth towel, such as a flour sack towel (NO terrycloth) onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle the towel with cornmeal or wheat bran to a diameter of about 12-inches. Once the rest period ends, quickly form the dough into a ball, tucking the seams underneath, and place onto the prepared towel, shown in photo three below. The seams underneath will later form the pretty cracked pattern on top of the finished loaf.
The process
The process of preparing and baking the loaf

Sprinkle the formed loaf with more cornmeal or bran if needed, then cover with another clean, smooth towel, shown in photo 4, above. Set aside to rise for 2 hours.

Thirty minutes prior to the two-hour rise period, place an enameled cast iron pot, with lid, into the oven. Set the oven to 475 degrees and time for 30 minutes. This is to get the pot screaming hot, approximating a bakery oven. Once the half hour is elapsed, carefully remove the pot from the oven, setting the lid aside, photo 6 above. Uncover the loaf, then slide a hand underneath the towel, supporting the loaf. In one quick movement, lift and invert the loaf into the hot pot. If it sticks to the side, give the pot a shake. It won't matter, in the end, see photo 7 above. Cover the pot with its lid, then return to the oven for 30 minutes. After the thirty minutes, remove the lid, leaving the bread to bake for at least a further 8 minutes and up to 30 minutes, if desired.

Once finished, remove the pot from the oven, then using a large spatula, lift the loaf out of the pot and onto a rack to cool. Allow the loaf to cool for at least an hour 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 and sign up for my Newsletter.