28 May 2011

Dead Bread

This is a slice of my latest attempt to make bread. I've always had success with the family recipe, but lately I've been turning to my new favorite cookbook for some variety. Unfortunately, every time I have tried, the bread has failed to rise. The photo shows my fourth or fifth attempt, and I am just not sure what to do. I know the yeast is good, and this last time I added vital wheat gluten to help it out, but it did no good. I have two theories:

1. My house is too cold. It is usually around the mid to upper 60s indoors, and though I try to create warm spots for the bread to rise, it may not be enough. Perhaps I'll have more success in the summer?

2. Insufficient kneading. Due to a chronic pain issue, my arms get sore pretty quickly, so I usually take a couple of breaks while kneading and give up all together before I should. A stand mixer with a dough hook may solve my problems, but I am too poor for one of those.

So. Has anyone else had bread problems like this? How did you cope? Right now it is making me feel like this:

15 May 2011

Maple Whiskey Pecan Pie

I picked up an old edition of New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant at Goodwill recently, and last night I got to try its take on pecan pie. They call it "Southern Nut Pie Eudora," and it caught my eye because it's the only pecan pie recipe I've ever seen that doesn't use corn syrup. The sweetness is provided with maple syrup instead. Of course, I had to make it my own by adding whiskey. The filling is more like a custard than other pecan pies I've tried, and it is of course very sweet. It's the perfect pie to enjoy on a rainy evening.

Note on the crust: I used my usual vodka pie crust recipe, but replaced one cup of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour. The result was not as tender or buttery as a white flour crust, but the extra heartiness nicely offset the sweetness of this pie.

Note on measurement: The recipe calls for 1 cup of maple syrup. I filled a liquid measuring cup to within a quarter inch of the 1-cup line with syrup, then filled up the rest of the cup with whiskey. I have no idea how much this actually was, but it is obviously not an exact science. You could definitely leave the whiskey out, or use less, or use rum instead. It's your pie, make it the way you want!

What you need:
Dough for a single-crust pie, chilled for at least 30 minutes
1 1/2 cups pecan halves
1/4 cup melted butter
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unbleached white flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, well beaten
a little less than 1 cup maple syrup
a little whiskey (enough to bring the maple syrup up to a full cup)
1 cup heavy cream or half-and-half

What you do:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Roll out the dough and place in a buttered pie dish. Spread the nuts evenly across the bottom of the unbaked pie shell. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the melted butter, vanilla, and flour. Add the salt, eggs, maple syrup, and cream, and mix thoroughly. Pour the liquid mixture over the nuts in the pie shell. The nuts will float. Push them down into the liquid with the back of a spoon to wet them, so they won't burn during baking.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the pie cool at least 15 minutes before slicing.

Eat your decadent sweet pie.

Margarita Meringue Pie

This was my first ever meringue pie! It was surprisingly easy, and the perfect dessert for Tex-Mex night at Seattle Beer Club. I don't have any pictures because it was eaten too quickly!

I used this Food Network recipe for the filling. For the crust I used my usual vodka pie crust, even though that is not the usual type of crust used for meringue pies. Meringue bakes for a shorter time than fruit pies, so you will need to pre-bake your crust. To do this, roll out the dough and put it in a greased pie dish. To prevent air from making the empty crust bubble up while baking, put a layer of wax paper in the dish, and fill it with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until it is firm but not browned. Or you can just do a graham cracker crust, which is a more traditional choice for this type of pie.

Dough for one single-crust pie

2 egg whites
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup tequila
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
Lime zest
4 egg yolks
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk

Coarse sea salt (to garnish)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. If using homemade pie dough, pre-bake as above.

Beat egg whites and sugar together in a bowl until there are soft peaks.

In another bowl, combine tequila, lime juice, egg yolks, and sweetened condensed milk. If you want a little extra lime flavor, grate some lime zest into the mix. You might as well, if you've just juiced a bunch of limes! Gently fold in the egg whites.

Pour the filling into your pie crust and bake for 25 minutes. Sprinkle the sea salt around the edge of the pie and let it cool before serving.

Extra Credit!
While looking for a recipe, I found this gem on the Solde Mexico Tequila website. It calls for 8 eggs, and then an additional 8 egg yolks! I really wanted to try it, but was a little intimidated by a recipe that required more than a dozen eggs. It must be so insanely rich! If you are braver than me, please tell me how it turns out!

Cherry Pie With Almond Crumble Topping

Mmmm, a perfect breakfast of leftover pie!

This is a basic cherry pie, but instead of a top crust I used an almond crumble topping. The topping is from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book, in the recipe for Our Favorite Cherry Pie. I added toasted almonds to the crumble for an extra nutty kick.

Nothing warms my pie heart more than hearing people ask for a second slice! This recipe's definitely a keeper.

What you need:
Dough for a single-crust pie, chilled

5-6 cups fresh or frozen cherries. If using frozen, thaw and drain completely
1 cup sugar (adjust amount depending on how sweet your cherries are!)
2 tsp cornstarch

3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2/3 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
small handful chopped toasted almonds (optional)

What you do:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, toss together the cherries, sugar, and cornstarch. With fruit pies you can add anywhere from 1/2 to 2 cups of sugar, and it really depends on how sweet the fruit is already, and how sweet or tart you like your pies to be. If in doubt, add a smaller amount and taste it. I tend to like my fruit pies on the less-sweet pie, but it's obviously a matter of personal taste.

Combine all the topping ingredients except the butter in a small bowl. Work in the butter with your fingertips until it's nice and crumbly.

Roll out your pie dough and place in a greased pie dish. Use a slotted spoon to scoop the cherries in to the crust. Spread the crumble topping over the whole thing. Bake on the bottom rack for 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the fruit is bubbly. Let the pie cool for an hour before slicing.

10 May 2011

Chard and Roasted Fennel Quiche

Quiche has become my latest pie-related obsession. There is something so homey and comforting about a warm slice of quiche, and it offers the endless flavor possibilities of pie. There are also many different ways to make a quiche. I have arrived at a simple formula: fill your crust with a layer of vegetables, add a layer of cheese, pour eggs on top, and bake. I couldn't get enough of this particular quiche, so I took care to remember how I did it. Enjoy!

dough for a single-crust pie, chilled
1 1/2 fennel bulbs, sliced (1 or 2 would work fine, but this is what I had)
1 medium onion, sliced
4 or 5 cloves of garlic
1 bunch of chard, stems and leaves separated and chopped up
1 cup grated cheese (I used gouda! Use whatever cheese you like, though I recommend something mild for this quiche)
a little goat cheese (optional)
5 eggs
generous splash of milk
a few shakes each of: nutmeg, paprika, turmeric, white pepper
small amount of grated cheddar to top it off (optional)

Drizzle some olive oil on a baking sheet, and toss the fennel and onion around on it. Sprinkle a little fennel seed over the vegetables if you'd like an extra fennel kick. Wrap the garlic cloves in foil and put it on the baking sheet. Roast the vegetables at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until everything is tender and just starting to brown at the edges. Stir the vegetables after the first 20 minutes to make sure they cook evenly.

Meanwhile, heat a little more olive oil in a sautee pan and add the chard stems - red chard is especially nice, because it adds a really great color. After the stems cook for a few minutes, add the chard leaves and continue cooking until the leaves are wilted but still bright green. Don't overcook your greens! After the greens are done, turn off the heat and add your roasted onions and fennel, tossing everything together.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, beat the eggs and milk. Add the spices. Remove the now-roasted garlic from the foil and squeeze the tasty innards of each clove into the eggs. Whisk it all together until the eggs are well beaten and the garlic and spices are really mixed in.

Roll out the pie dough and place it in a buttered pie dish. Spoon the veggie mixture into the bottom of the crust. Dot this with a little goat cheese - just a little, though. You want the flavor of the vegetables to stand out on this one! Layer the grated cheese on top. Pour the egg mixture over the whole thing, using your spoon if necessary to make sure the egg goes all the way to the edges. Trim the edges of the crust and make it pretty if you are so inclined.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the eggs are set. If you want a little extra cheese action, sprinkle a little extra grated cheese on top after the first 15 minutes. I used cheddar for that last step, because I ran out of gouda. The combination was fantastic.

Eat it up! This is the perfect food for brunch. Or breakfast. Or dinner. Or a late night snack... Mmmm, quiche!

06 May 2011

Cinco de Mayo recipes

I had some people over for cinco de mayo last night for margaritas and nachos. If you know me (which I assume most of you do), you know that I'm a big fan of "everything from scratch." Which isn't to say I don't buy pre-made things. I do. All the time. But when I'm entertaining, I like to show off a little. I whipped up some salsa (which is extremely easy to make if you have a food processor or blender) and margaritas.

For salsa you need:
1 15 oz can of diced tomatoes
1/3 large white onion, cut into smallish pieces
1 jalapeno, sliced (keep the seeds!)
5 cloves of garlic
juice of one lime (I prefer to section limes for salsa because you get the most juice that way, but it's fine to just juice it)
3 Tbsp white vinegar (give or take)
handful of cilantro (I remove the leaves from the stems and just use the leaves, but if you're really lazy, you can throw the stems in there too, it'll be fine!)
salt to taste (probably you'll need as much as 1 Tbsp, but add it slowly to be careful!)

Put everything except the vinegar and salt in a food processor. Pulse until it's at the consistency you want. Add the vinegar one tablespoon at a time and the salt one large pinch at a time until you like the flavor. And remember, this is salsa. Everyone likes it different. One jalapeno with seeds gives it a kick but shouldn't send you running for milk. If you want it hotter, add another pepper. If you don't want it hot, remove the seeds and ribs (the RIBS are where most of the heat is, so remember that!). If you like it very sour, add more lime or vinegar, etc.

For margaritas:
4 parts tequila (blanco or reposado)
1 part triple sec
2 parts fresh lime juice
0.5-1 part agave syrup

A good margarita is all about ingredients. First, you need the right tequila. I am against anything that calls itself "gold" because gold tequila isn't actually aged like reposado or anejo tequila, it has extra flavors and colors added. You absolutely want something that is "100% agave" (which "gold" tequilas are not) and use blanco/silver or reposado (anejo is for sipping!) and use a bottle that costs around $20-25 for a fifth. You don't want to spend too much on tequila because a lot of the flavor will be covered anyway. Hornitos, Milagro, and 1800 are good options. You can use cheap triple sec (a fifth costs less than $10) or something fancier like Grand Marnier. You will notice the flavor difference (also Grand Marnier is 80 proof, while most cheap triple secs are around 30 proof) and I think if you're making a small batch, then go for the better stuff. If you're making a big pitcher, cheap triple sec is fine. You want to use fresh lime juice. The amount of juice in a lime varies a lot, but a good, average sized lime will give you about an ounce of juice if you squeeze it all out. Before juicing, roll the lime on the counter to break apart the insides a little. You'll feel it get softer. Finally, you want to use agave syrup instead of simple syrup. Tequila is made from agave so it's natural that the flavors of tequila and agave syrup would complement each other. You can usually find agave syrup next to honey in the grocery store. Truth be told, agave syrup will make your margaritas less pretty. It's brown and and margaritas made with it are not as bright green as you might like. BUT I promise it tastes better!

Proportion wise, you can change things a little. The dominant flavors in a margarita should be tequila and lime. The orange and sweetness should be minor. I strongly recommend that about half of your cocktail should be tequila. You also don't want to lose the sourness of lime by covering it up with too much sweetener. Use 1 part or less sweetener per 2 parts lime. You can even cut it down to about a teaspoon per ounce of lime juice (which is 1 part agave to 6 parts lime juice) but taste it to make sure you like it.

You can make as large or small a batch as you'd like. For a small serving, put all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake until cold. For a large batch, pour all ingredients into a pitcher and stir, making sure the agave syrup gets mixed in. Add ice and stir again. You'll want to serve these fairly quickly (like within 30 minutes) so the ice doesn't melt too much and water everything down. If you suspect the pitcher will be around for a while, only add a little ice, and then encourage the drinkers to put lots of ice in their glass. Serve up (my preference) or over ice in a salt-rimmed glass (mandatory).

Woah. That was way more than I expected to write about margaritas. Happy Friday!

05 May 2011

Red wine mushrooms

I've made these a couple of times, and think I've got it down. Warning: this is a qualitative, not quantitative recipe, feel free to adjust as you see fit. We like these a lot as a side to some protein, or just as they are. They also reheat well.

I'll estimate the ingredients for 1/2 pound of mushrooms, I've been using portobello, but i think anything but shiitake would work.

Combine all of the following in a pan large enough for the mushrooms. It will almost form a paste.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons Garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
a reasonable amount of pepper

Turn the pan on to heat the oil, then add:

1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
dash or two of worcestershire sauce.
when the ingredients start to sizzle, add

1/2 pound of mushrooms, sliced.

give everything a few tosses (or stirs if you want to be safe and boring), then add

~ 1/4 cup of red wine,

I add enough to get all the mushrooms wet and tinged red. Use your thumb to control a poor strait from the bottle. Then proceed to pour yourself a glass of it. Drink from aforementioned glass as you:

Cook on high, stirring occasionally, until the wine and mushrooms cook down, and the sauce thickens.

Serve on top of some protein or as they are, with of course, the rest of the red wine.