Sunday, December 22, 2019

Making Bread is So Satisfying

I was testing bread recipes a couple of weeks ago, wanting to have some breads on hand over the holidays. One of these was the result of an accident. I made the wrong kind of starter for a recipe I intended to make. Then I was stuck with the starter and wondering what to do, and a though occurred, so I pursued this thought and it came out lovely and delicious!

Italian Style Bread as loaves
Italian Style Bread as loaves
The accidental starter was a Poolish Starter, which is rather thin and runny in comparison to some others like Biga or Pâte Fermentée, both of which are more like a bread dough themselves. A Poolish is like some sourdough starters in consistency, which starts out like thick pancake batter and after fermentation turns out in long sticky strands. It generally uses an almost equal amount by weight of flour and water, with a little yeast to get the process going. The difference between a Sourdough starter and a Poolish is that the Sourdough is truly fermented and over time becomes soured. How sour it stays will depend on how much flour and water is added to refresh the starter. The Poolish on the other hand, is only just allowed to rise once, refrigerated, then used within 3 days. Its souring effect is mostly nil, but the pre-fermentation and then the cold storage unlocks a lot of flavors that would not be available to the bread if just made in a one day process.

Okay, so that is an explanation of what a Poolish does. Here is the recipe for a Poolish, enough for the Italian Style Bread recipe, below:

Poolish Starter

Makes about 23 ounces 

Make at least one day ahead

11.25 ounces unbleached bread flour
12 ounces water, room temperature
¼ teaspoon instant / rapid rise yeast

Stir the three ingredients together until all the flour is moistened. Cover the bowl with plastic film and set aside at room temperature until it is bubbly and about doubled, about 3 or 4 hours. Refrigerate the Poolish overnight or for up to three days.


Italian Style Bread as Rolls
Italian Style Bread as Rolls
To make the Italian style bread out of this Poolish simply requires bringing the Poolish to room temperature on the day of making the bread, and then adding in the ingredients to make the final dough. Quite simple. Truly delicious. I have been mostly making whole grain breads for our general consumption, but some of our guests over the holidays do not care for the whole grain breads. From this bread recipe it is possible to get two long, freestanding loaves or 16 individual rolls of about 2.5 ounces each.

Italian Style Bread

Makes 2 long loaves or 16 rolls

All the Poolish starter
11.65 ounces / 330 grams / 2½ cups bread flour
0.20 ounces / 5 grams / 1½ teaspoons salt
0.15 ounces / 3 grams / 1 teaspoon instant yeast
0.5 ounces / 1 tablespoon olive oil
4 ounces <2 tablespoons / 3.5 ounces water

Windowpane Test
Windowpane Test
The day of making the bread, remove the Poolish from the refrigerator at least an hour ahead, or more, to take off the chill. Pour all the Poolish into a large bowl, then add in the flour, then add the salt to one side and the yeast to the other side. Pour in the olive oil and begin stirring, adding in the water to bring together. Use a wooden spoon at first, switching to hands once it becomes too difficult to stir. It may help to moisten hands while working with the dough. Once the mixture begins to come together in one mass, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and begin kneading for about 12 minutes, or until the dough passes the windowpane test as shown here. Taking a small piece of dough, stretch it gently until light can be seen through the thinned dough, without breaking or tearing. If it tears easily, knead some more, until this is achieved.

Oil a clean bowl and set the kneaded bread into the bowl, turning over once to leave both sides of the dough greased. Cover with plastic film and set aside to rise until just about doubled in size, about 2 hours, depending on ambient temperature. A finger lightly pressed into the risen dough should leave a small indent that still springs back - not completely, but mostly.

FOR LOAVES: Turn the risen dough out and lightly degas. If making two long loaves, divide the dough evenly into two pieces using a dough cutter. Flatten one half into a rectangle, then begin rolling up tightly, tucking either end in slightly as you roll. Once you reach the other edge, pinch the seam together, then set onto a large parchment lined baking sheet, on one side. Roll the second piece of dough and set at least 4 inches apart from the first loaf on the baking sheet. Mist with oil and cover with plastic film. Allow to rise again until almost doubled in size.

Have the oven preheated to 500 degrees. Have a heavy oven safe pan set on the broiler rack, and the other rack set so the bread is at about the center of the oven. Have 1 cup of hot water ready. When bread is ready to bake, slash the loaves twice lengthwise. Set the pan on the lower rack in the oven and pour the cup of hot water in the pan on the broiler rack. Immediately lower the oven temperature to 400 degrees and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. The bread should be nicely browned and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Internal temperature should be at least 200 degrees F.

Italian Style Bread in Knots
Italian Style Bread in Knots

FOR ROLLS: Degas the dough slightly, then begin measuring out pieces of dough of about 2.5 ounces apiece, or if gauging by eye, cut into 16 equal pieces. Form into taught balls for round rolls or form into taught torpedo shapes, setting the rolls onto a large, greased baking sheet or two as needed (or line the sheets with parchment). I formed my rolls into "knots."

To make "knots," roll each piece of dough into a long, 10 or 11-inch length rope. Begin to tie a regular knot by looping the ends round each other. There should be room in the center of the loop created. Take the two ends and loop each around the circle once more, so one end sticks out the bottom and one loop sticks out of the top. Set each finished knot onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving at least 2 inches between rolls. Allow the rolls to rise until nearly doubled.

Have the oven heated to 375 degrees with a rack towards the center of the oven. If desired use an egg wash to make the surfaced shiny. Combine one egg with a tablespoon of water and whisk briefly to combine. Using a pastry brush, carefully paint the tops of the rolls with the egg wash, being careful the wash does not run underneath the roll or it will glue itself to the pan.

Bake the rolls for approximately 15 minutes, or until golden and sounding hollow when tapped on the bottoms.

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, December 4, 2019

Please Enjoy my December Newsletter

Holidays are in the Air,  *|FNAME|*

The holidays are nearly here already, and this time of year it seems we go from one party to another or are hosting the party ourselves. I have loads of recipes to choose from for party fare and planning ahead to make life easier. Whether making holiday cookies or making appetizers for a get together or a sit-down meal, I have much to choose from to make your festive occasion a success.

Weather notwithstanding, it is time to be jolly, to share the warmth of friends and family with gratitude and love in our hearts and to share our bounty. I wish all my readers a profoundly loving holiday season.

Please view my
"A Harmony of Flavors" blog site, continually being updated with new recipes. There is a lot to choose from!
Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas
Holiday Cookies
That Cookies Time of Year

None of these cookies are new recipes, but as suggestions, these are some of my favorites. Pretty jeweled tones as with the Thumbprint Cookies or brightened with holiday sprinkles as in the Gingerspice Cookies, or just green colored as in the Pistachio Tea Cookies (as in Matcha Green Tea) or everyone's favorite of peanut butter and chocolate, cookies are everywhere this time of year. Gather the kids and have a little family time fun, or make them and freeze them as I do, to have ready at a moment's notice.

Clockwise from top left:
  • Thumbprint Cookies: I like using glace cherries, both red and green, to make these thumbprints, but they can also be made with a bit of jam dropped in the well. However you choose, these do indeed brighten up the cookie platter!
  • Miracle Peanut Butter Kisses: Starting out with simple Miracle Peanut Butter cookies, naturally gluten free with 4 simple ingredients (peanut butter, sugar, egg and vanilla), they can be made simply as peanut butter cookies, or with the addition of chocolate kisses, these are everyone's favorite combination.
  • Pistachio Tea Cookies: Made originally as a riff on my old childhood favorite of Russian Tea Cakes / Snowballs, these come out so good that my husband and I deem them better than the originals. I still love Russian Tea Cakes, but the combination of pistachios with the green tea powder just seems to enhance the overall flavors. Do try these, if you can get hold of unsalted pistachios.
  • Gingerspice Cookies: I love Gingersnap cookies and Gingerbread Cookies, because I love the strong spices. My husband, and some of our friends, do not like quite such a strong assertion of spice in a cookie, so I created these Gingerspice Cookies to tone down the spices and still have a pleasant flavor. Excellent on their own, or iced with a confectioner's glaze of thinned Royal Icing, these are a must try.

Below is a button to connect with a really great Bonus Recipe for this month.
CLICK HERE for a Bonus Recipe
Happy Holidays from a Harmony of Flavors
Holiday Appetizers, Make Ahead
Spreads and Nibbles

In my house, appetizer type foods have been the name of the game for over 30 years. Having a selection of goodies arrayed attractively, available for grazing while mingling and enjoying a holiday. My preference has been anything that requires no utensils. I have always hated having a plastic fork that isn't strong enough to cut, and having to juggle a knife as well? Horrors. At the very worst, I have little spreaders for any available cheese or other molds. One can set a glass down while scooping a portion onto a plate or a cracker, then resume walking around. Better still, having little 1- to 3-bite appetizer foods, making it simple to pick up and eat with one hand, keeping the other free for your beverage of choice.

The best part with these featured appetizers is the making ahead part. The two molds can be assembled days in advance and kept well wrapped and refrigerated until needed. Un-mold, set out crackers or pita crisps or baguette slices and you're all set. The other two have components that can be done ahead, with a tiny bit of assembly nearing serving time. Lots more ideas are available on my blog, just check out the Recipe Index!

Clockwise from top left:

  • Green Pea Pancakes with Cheese & Spicy Cranberry Relish: These delicious and festive little bites require two components that can be made now, for later assembly. The green pea pancakes are just adorable and naturally green with no artifice. Make them ahead, cool and stack between waxed paper and freeze in a tightly sealed zip top bag or other container until needed. Add a nice white cheese mixture (made ahead up to 4 days) and top with the Spicy Cranberry Five-Spice Relish (make now and keep tightly sealed in the fridge). The assembly can be done the day before your party, if absolutely needed, without looking too "tired."
  • Chicken Artichoke Cheese Spread: This mixture is so good, and it does contain chicken, so it's a bit more hearty. If pressed for time, simply use a store-bought rotisserie chicken, assemble the mixture and place in a mold, well covered and refrigerated for up to four days. Turn out of the mold right before your get-together and serve with crackers alongside.
  • Festive Layered Cheese Spread: Once more, this spread requires the Spicy Cranberry Five-Spice Relish. This relish can be made now and kept tightly sealed in the fridge. It has a little bit of a kick, so it goes especially well with the cheese part of the mold. The Pesto is My Favorite Pesto recipe, but if preferred, store bought pesto may be used. Assemble the mold up to 4 days in advance and unmold just before serving.
  • Andouille Coins: These are a standby for me. Everyone loves them and they are simple to make. The sausages can be rolled in the puff pastry up to 2 days in advance, then wrapped tightly and sealed in zip-top bags and refrigerated until the day of your event. Spicy Andouille sausages are great, but any spicy/smoked sausage works, as long as it is not fresh sausage. Look for a cured or smoked variety, preferably in shorter lengths about 6-inches long.)Slice them about a quarter-inch thick and bake them within an hour of your event. They keep well and are completely delicious.
Happy Holidays from A Harmony of Flavors
Nut Pita, Less Sweet Option
An Alternative to Cookies

As I grew up with one grandmother baking all things Slovakian and the other baking things from Vojvodina, in northern Serbia (and surrounding areas), I had a lot of wonderful foods that were truly outside the realm of cookies. Some were not to sweet, though no less rich. One such dessert is My paternal Grandmother's Nut Pita. Apparently Pita means "Pie." Pita can be made in many styles and in savory versions as well, but Grandma made only this one kind, Nut Pita, using walnuts. The addition of Whisky to the filling and the brushing of the crust with vanilla after baking were the most special flavors. It was an absolute hit in our household. So, if you like richness, but not too much sweetness, try these out. The recipe is large, but can be halved. The pieces are cut into diamond shapes for serving, as shown in my photo. Have a piece  with a nice cup of coffee or tea, and be ready to relax and enjoy.
Happy Holidays from A Harmony of Flavors

Allspice Berries

While the name Allspice may seem to evoke a blend of spices, allspice is actually the dried berries of a tree in the Myrtle family, Pimenta dioica. Native to Jamaica, it is also called Jamaica Pepper, and is used extensively throughout the Caribbean and Central America. Allspice is a notable addition to Jerk Seasoning. The flavors of Allspice seem to mimic a mix of Cinnamon, Cloves and Nutmeg, with maybe a hint of black pepper thrown in. The leaves of the tree are used similarly to bay leaf, and the wood of the tree is used to smoke meats and cook over, for its flavors. Allspice adds interesting flavor to baked goods and is also added to many savory dishes in Guatemala. I learned in Guatemala that black pepper is called Pimenta Negra (black pepper), and Allspice is called Pimenta Gorda (meaning thick or fat pepper, as it is much larger than black pepper). My mother-in-law from South Dakota used allspice in most of her baked goods. Try it out in small amounts, if you are unfamiliar with this spice, then experiment!
Gratitude for all we have is especially important during the holidays, when so many are feeling lack. I wish a merry holiday season to all my readers. I hope these recipes give you something to look forward to. Please visit my blog-site and try some new (or old) recipes, learn something new about an herb or spice or other subject, or maybe just daydream. However it is accomplished, I endeavor to provide articles of interest. Not everyone cooks these days, due to time constraints, though I did cook meals for my family back when I had 4 youngsters and worked 2 jobs, so I know it can be done. It does require advanced planning. Many of my newer, more complex recipes have been created now that I am retired and have extra time on my hands, yet many are easy and quick. Take a look through my suggestions here in this newsletter, as well as looking through past newsletters here, for more ideas. My blog site has an index of all my recipes, for many more options.
Please forward this newsletter to any friends who may find my stories, articles and recipes of interest. Subscribe to this Newsletter by hitting the  Subscribe Button below. Follow me on  Facebook, check out my  A Harmony of Flavors blog. Find all my food (and lots of other) photos on Pinterest at AHOFpin.
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Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Holidays are Coming

When holidays come around, I like to have things prepared in advance when possible. And sometimes I don't actually get everything done that I want to, but I do get some things out of the way. And, when it comes to food, parties and guests, I really prefer as much prep-work as possible to be done ahead, so I can spend time enjoying my guests. 

I prefer appetizer type things, making it more fun to be convivially mingling, glass of wine in hand, an occasional little appetizer bite to go with, all while chatting and having fun. In that line of thinking is where I go to plan a new appetizer. My question to myself is:
"What can I make that is easily picked up with fingers, makes minimal mess when biting into, and does not require utensils that would have everyone needing a third or fourth hand to juggle with while holding a glass of wine or other beverage?"
Layered Spread
Layered Spread
This is my credo when making new recipes. In this line of thought then, I was thinking of a recipe my sister made for a party. It is a cream cheese/goat cheese mixture that is layered into a bowl or pan with a layer of basil pesto in one layer and a layer of chopped pimientos in another. It makes a lovely presentation. But it is someone else's recipe. That recipe called for pesto, generally meaning someone buys a jar of it at the store. Since I make my own, and prefer the flavors in My Favorite Pesto far more than anything in a jar from the store, I have already adjusted the recipe. But no matter how much I love pimientos, and no matter how good they taste in that combination, I wanted something else, something brighter, for the "red" layer.

I have fresh cranberries in the freezer. I like to keep bags of them for use at a moment's notice. So I got thinking I would like to make a sweet/savory mix with that deep jeweled red tone as the other layer.
Green Pea Pancakes
Green Pea Pancakes

Another idea I had was the little Green Pea Pancakes I have made to top with Smoked Salmon Mousse. These are absolutely adorable, but I wanted more Christmas-like colors. The Green Pea Pancakes are tiny, being made in the bottom of the wells of muffin tins. They are a beautiful green, owing to the peas themselves, with no additional colors. They are not highly flavored, relying on the topping for the flavor. And I thought that these little "pancakes" would be great for the green part of some kind of combination. So when I came up with this cranberry mixture, I felt I could kill two birds with one stone, and use some of the cranberry mixture for these, by first piping some cream cheese/goat cheese mixture onto the green pea pancake and topping with a dollop of the cranberry mix - how lovely would that be? 
Spicy Cranberry Five Spice Relish
Spicy Cranberry Five Spice Relish

So the only thing was for me to create the cranberry mixture, which I sort of made on the fly, adding things as my "mental taste buds" directed. My goal was a slightly sweet, slightly tart, slightly spicy mixture that would stand up to the cream cheese, giving it some zip. I went with some oriental-leaning flavors, adding in Chinese Five-Spice and Gochujang sauce. I used pomegranate molasses for tartness. It tastes marvelous! Spicy, tangy, and a bit of heat. I used this in both ways I have mentioned so far, but it would also be great mixed into cream cheese or goat cheese (which would make an intense pink color), or over top of a block of cream cheese. It is highly spiced, so it will add brightness to any simple cheese base or bread or other neutral base.

Spicy Cranberry Five-Spice Relish

Makes about 1¼ cups
Spicy Cranberry Five Spice Relish
Spicy Cranberry Five Spice Relish

10 g / 0.40 oz / 1 tablespoon olive oil
60 g / 2.15 oz / 1 medium shallot 
20 g / 0.65 oz / 1½-inches fresh ginger, minced
93 g / 3.30 oz / ⅓-cup water
85 g / 3.0 oz / 6 tablespoons sugar
26 g / 0.90 oz / 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
23 g / 0.80 oz / 1 tablespoon Gochujang sauce
2g / 0.10 oz / 1 teaspoon good quality peppercorns, crushed
<1 g / 0.05 oz / 1 teaspoon Chinese Five-Spice Powder
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
3 g / 0.05 oz / ½-teaspoon salt
170 g / 6 oz / 2 cups fresh cranberries, finely chopped

Heat a saucepan with the tablespoon of oil and saute the shallots gently until translucent and starting to brown. Add in the minced ginger and toss until fragrant. Add in all the remaining ingredients and stir well, then cook, stirring often, for 7 to 10 minutes, until the mixture has thickened. Cool and store in a tightly sealed container until needed.


Now that I had the relish type condiment I needed, I proceeded to make the layered spread I wanted. This came together easily, though I allowed each layer to chill before proceeding with the next, so as not to cause too much mixing of the colored layers with the white cheese layers.
Festive Layered Cheese Spread
Festive Layered Cheese Spread

Festive Layered Cheese Spread

Festive Layered Cheese Spread
Festive Layered Cheese Spread
Makes about a 2-cup mold

8-ounces cream cheese
8-ounces soft goat cheese (Chevre or Montrachet)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon olive oil

2 - 3 tablespoons good quality Pesto
2 - 3 tablespoons Spicy Cranberry Five Spice Relish

Allow the cheeses to soften sufficiently to mix easily, then combine all the Cheese Mixture ingredients in a bowl and beat well by hand or with a hand mixer, until well combined and smooth.

Line a 2-cup mold (or bowl, or plastic storage container) with plastic film, large enough to line the mold and with overhang to flip over the top once filled. Carefully spoon about one-third of the cheese mixture into the mold, keeping the edges of the container clean. Tap the mold sharply on counter or other surface to ensure the cheese fits well into the lower edges. Top the cheese with the pesto, again smoothing carefully and evenly to the edges. Chill the mixture for at least half-hour, to firm the layers a bit.

Once firm, top the pesto layer with half the remaining cheese mixture, smoothing neatly to the edges of the container. Top with the Cranberry Five-Spice Gochujang Spread, and once more, chill to firm up. Once firm, top with the remaining cheese mixture, smoothing the top. Flip the ends of the plastic film over top, then cover tightly and chill for at least three hours or overnight (or up to 5 days) in the refrigerator.

To un-mold, turn the cheese mold out of its container, then carefully peel back the plastic film from the "top," and turn the top out onto a plate. Gently peel away the remaining plastic film, then with a knife, smooth any edges. Serve with crackers of choice or toasted baguette slices.


Once I got the mold made and refrigerated, I went on to make the Green Pea Pancakes. Done and cooling, I made another, similar, cheese spread that I intended to pipe in one large star atop the pancakes, then to top with a little dollop of the Spicy Cranberry Five-Spice Relish. Use one of these methods to top the pancakes:
  • Use Ateco large open star tip #829 to pipe a single large star as in my photos, then setting a dollop of the relish in the center.
  • Pipe an edge around the edge of the pancake with a smaller piping tip such as Wilton open star tip #32 and place the dollop of relish into the center well.
  • Lacking piping tips or bags, simply spreading some of the cheese mixture atop the pancake, making a slight well in the center to hold the relish would also work perfectly, and still look just lovely. Try using tiny sprigs of rosemary to adorn the little appetizers.
Green Pea Pancakes with Cheese and Spicy Cranberry Five-Spice Relish
Green Pea Pancakes with Cheese and Spicy Cranberry Five-Spice Relish


Green Pea Pancakes with Cheese and Spicy Cranberry 5-Spice Relish

Green Pea Pancakes with Cheese and Spicy Cranberry Five-Spice Relish
Pancakes with Cheese and Spicy Cranberry Relish
Makes about 30 to 35

- One recipe Green Pea Pancakes
- Spicy Cranberry Five-Spice Relish

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 ounces soft goat cheese (Chevre or Montrachet), softened
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 fresh clove garlic, very finely minced
2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon olive oil

In a small bowl mix together the Cheese Spread ingredients by hand with a spoon or with a hand mixer, until well combined and smooth.

Once Green Pea Pancakes are cooled, use one of the methods listed above to place the cream cheese mixture atop the pancakes, then top with a small dollop of the Spicy Cranberry Five-Spice Relish.

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.