Monday, November 29, 2010

Oatmeal bread, no-knead style

Let me begin by apologizing to the aunts and uncles who received bread from me on Thanksgiving.  You got my first attempt at this recipe.  Yesterday's loaves were much prettier.  I do hope it still tasted good!  I should have used smaller pans the first time to get taller loaves.

This oatmeal bread is my latest attempt at everyday sandwich bread.  The basic recipe is from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, and it was definitely less work than the cracked wheat bread I've been baking.  Get this recipe started on Sunday, and you will have a couple nice loaves ready for Monday morning's toast and school lunches.  After being away for several days over Thanksgiving, we needed the smell of freshly baked bread to replace the stale air that had taken over the house while we were gone.

I adapted this recipe, though not all of my changes were intentional.  I used wheat germ, thinking it was wheat bran (even though I do have wheat bran in the pantry!).  In any case, switching the grains in this recipe doesn't seem to do any harm.  Use what you have, as long as you keep the proportions of wet and dry ingredients the same.  I also think this amount of dough makes only two 9"x4" loaves, not three (unless you use smaller loaf pans).  You may need to adjust for the size and shape of your pans.

Oatmeal Bread
adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
1 cup milk (skim works fine)
1/2 cup molasses, honey or maple syrup
1 1/2 Tbsp. granulated yeast (2 packets)
1 Tbsp. Kosher salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup wheat germ OR wheat or oat bran
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Mix the yeast and salt with the water, milk, molasses and oil in a large bowl or lidded food container.  Mix in the remaining dry ingredients with a wooden spoon.  You may need to use wet hands to mix in the last bit of flour.

Cover the bowl with a lid or a plate (not airtight) and allow to rest at room temperature for about 2 hours, or until the dough rises and collapses (flattens on top).  In my cold house, this can be closer to 3 hours.

You can shape and bake the loaves now, or refrigerate the dough and use over the next 8 days.  I like to go ahead and bake it all, and put my extra loaf in the freezer for later in the week.

Grease two 9"x4" nonstick loaf pans.  (I have a well-seasoned Pampered Chef stoneware pan that is essentially nonstick, but a regular loaf pan lined with greased parchment or foil works just fine, too.)  Dust the surface of the dough with flour and scrape out half with a sturdy spatula.  Dust the piece of dough with more flour and quickly shape into a ball by gently stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom, rotating the ball in your hands as you go.  (This is much easier than it sounds.  See this video if you need a visual.)

Stretch the ball into an oval and place it in the pan.  Let rise for 40 minutes (for fresh dough) or 1 hour and 20 minutes (for refrigerated dough).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Put one rack in the center of the oven, and place an empty broiler tray or metal pan on the lowest rack.

Put the loaf pans in the center of the oven.  Pour 1 cup of hot water into the broiler tray and quickly close the oven door.  Bake for 50 minutes, or until deeply browned and firm.  Cool on a rack before slicing.

One cheese sandwich on a Winnie the Pooh plate, coming right up!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday afternoon in the kitchen with Dorie

Spurred by the Dinner at 8 challenge over at Chez Pim, we spent this Sunday afternoon in the kitchen with our kids and three lovely recipes from Dorie Greenspan's New York Times bestselling cookbook, Around My French Table.

A roast loin of pork, an autumnal fruit and vegetable mélange, and a buttery apple cake ("Heaven on a plate," declared the 7-year-old sous-chef).  None of these recipes is difficult, and either of us adults, working alone, probably could have gotten them all to the table in a little under the three hour timeline.  But with the step-by-step instructions laid out in lavish detail on Dinner at 8, I thought this would be a great opportunity to involve the kids in making a real meal, from start to finish.  The meal preparation also became a substantial challenge for us:  to keep the kids engaged throughout the entire preparation, without shooing them out of the kitchen so we could get dinner on the table more efficiently.

Stirring the melted butter for the cake.
Seven, our proficient reader, was in charge of navigating the recipes on dad's iPhone and comparing our progress to the photos on the website.  Five, who always loves to help in the kitchen, stayed right at our elbows demanding a new task no sooner than she finished the last.  (Two was taking his afternoon nap for most of the proceedings--a crucial element to our success.)

The kids learned new skills:  peeling apples, folding cake batter, crushing spices.  They measured, they counted, they whisked and they stirred.  They even paid attention to a short lecture on knife skills.  They discovered endives, leeks and swiss chard, and we discussed why Greek yogurt made a good substitute for crème fraîche.

And I never once heard, "I'm bored!"

Whisking the flour and baking powder.

Apple Peeling 101

Introducing the apples to the batter.

Filling the cake pan.

Prepping the acorn squash for the soup.

Chopping the leeks.

Filling the soup pot.

Preparing the soup garnishes.

How to slice Swiss chard

Starting the stuffing for the pork loin.

Smashing the spices

Two is awake and would like to play with the kitchen twine!

Endive, apples and grapes

After about three hours and 20 minutes (our pork loin was super-sized, and needed to spend some extra time in the oven), dinner was served.  Despite some raised eyebrows and wrinkled noses, everybody tried everything without complaint.  And though they weren't sold on the endive, they ate--even enjoyed!--some of everything else on their plates.  They were so invested in the meal that they set and cleared the table together without their usual squabbles over fork placement and whose turn it was to set the glasses.

Acorn squash soup garnished with toasted hazelnuts and apples

Endives, apples and grapes

Sunday dinner


I probably don't need to mention that the cake was devoured in mere minutes.  Two (who ate his soup with some encouragement from the choo choo train spoon, left the table during the main course, only to return the second he heard the word "cake" from two rooms away) had to be escorted from the table in tears when his cake plate was empty.

We send a huge thank you to Dorie Greenspan for sharing these recipes with us.  I am certain that all three will reappear on our table for many years to come.  And many thanks to Pim Techamuanvivit, whose Dinner at 8 plan inspired us to bring our children into the kitchen to share an afternoon of food and family.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Coconut almond brownies

I found this recipe in a Ladies Home Journal cookbook, and it made me wonder why I'd never thought of it before. Chocolate, coconut and almonds are an obvious combination, and I've been missing out on it for years.  Nevermore, I say.  Nevermore.

I used my own standard brownie recipe as the base for these ('s the one on the inside of the Baker's Unsweetened Chocolate box).  You could use this one, too, or whatever basic brownie recipe you like best.  Different people like different qualities in a brownie.  There's the fudgy camp versus the cakey camp, and all manner of gradations in between.  No doubt this would even work with a brownie mix, but you can test that for yourself.

Brownie layer:
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup flour (whole wheat is great!)
1 cup coarsely chopped almonds, toasted

Coconut layer:
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 Tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla
7 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

Heat oven to 325 degrees.  Line a 9"x13" pan with foil and spray with baking spray (or grease and flour).

For brownie layer:  Combine butter and chocolate in a large microwave safe bowl.  Microwave on High for 1 minute.  Add 30 second intervals until butter and chocolate are nearly melted (a few lumps are good and mean you haven't burned it).  Stir together until the mixture is smooth.  Mix in sugars, eggs and vanilla and beat well.  Then stir in flour.  Spread mixture into greased pan and sprinkle chopped almonds on top of the batter.

For coconut layer:  In a smaller bowl, whisk together sugar, egg, flour, baking powder and vanilla. Stir in coconut.  Spoon evenly over brownie layer.  Don't be afraid to use your fingers to redistribute the coconut as necessary.

Bake 40-45 minutes, until golden and just set in the middle.  Cool completely on a wire rack.  If you want nice clean edges when you slice the bars (let's pretend you're making them for a party rather than devouring them all yourself in front of the latest episode of Sherlock), put the pan in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before cutting.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Cake in no time

Thursday afternoon.  Naptime.

After a session of sorting through the pile of stuff in the basement (you know the one, that mish mash of things to put away, things you've been looking for and couldn't find, things to donate, and things to throw away), I trudged upstairs and thought about dinner.  My weekly menu (just an entry in Google Calendar) told me there wasn't anything to prep ahead of time for the main course and salad, but it didn't say chirp about dessert.  And if there's no dessert, you can be sure someone in this house is going to notice.

What can you whip up at 2:15 that will be ready by 3 p.m., when it's time to do the school run?  Yogurt cake, that's what.  I've tried similar recipes from several different sources, so this is the adaptation I use now.  This week's version is lime yogurt cake, but next time I might make lemon, or skip the citrus and just add vanilla.  No plain yogurt?  Use sour cream.

Quick Yogurt Cake

1 cup plain yogurt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
zest and juice of 1 lime (or lemon or orange, or 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla)
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Whisk the wet ingredients together in a large bowl.  In a smaller bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.  Add the dry to the wet and whisk until smooth.  Scrape the batter into a greased and floured pan (I used a 9" springform, but a regular cake pan or loaf pan would be fine with wax paper or parchment on the bottom before you grease and flour.)  Bake for 35-40 minutes (almost an hour for a large loaf pan), until a toothpick or knife in the center comes out clean.

School's out!

Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes (or as long as it takes to pick up the kids from school).  Loosen the edges of the cake from the pan with a knife, and turn out onto a rack to cool.  Sift a little powdered sugar over it or serve it with raspberry sauce, warm jam, or a drizzle of chocolate if you're feeling fancy.  Then put on the kettle and have a slice while you quiz this week's spelling words.

Still some for dessert

Moist, tender and barely sweet, the only bad thing about this cake is the wailing when there isn't any left for an after school snack the following day.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The great pumpkin is not just a myth

It's been a busy week or so at the Home Baked house.  Rehearsals, concerts, karate belt tests, garage makeovers...but not very much photo-taking or blogging.  We still needed food to fuel all that activity, though.  I don't have a photo of the "best pumpkin pie ever," but apparently I'll have to make it again for Thanksgiving.  The not-so-secret secret?  Start with a real pumpkin, not a can.  I have always skipped this step, because, really--what's wrong with letting someone else cut up the pumpkin, cook it, scoop out the pulp, and puree it?  That seems like an awful lot of work to do before you can even get to the pie-making stage. 

But this year my kindergartener went on a field trip to the pumpkin farm and returned with a cute little pie pumpkin, and she asked if we could make it into a pie.  Who could refuse?

I learned that if you use a pie pumpkin, the process is not so arduous.  Rinse it off, cut in half, scoop out the seeds and strings.  Then roast it as you would any winter squash.  I put the pumpkin, cut sides down, in a pan with a little water and covered it with foil.  Then I slid it into a 400 degree oven.  In less than an hour, it was tender, and when cool, the flesh slipped right out of the skin. I barely mashed it with a fork and had exactly two cups of pulp--perfect for the Joy of Cooking pumpkin pie recipe.  I did this step early in the week, and kept the pulp in a container in the refrigerator.

Fast forward to Sunday, after a long day of cabinet installing, karate, cleaning and singing.  It was nearly 6 p.m. and everyone was hungry.  Chicken was ready in the slow cooker, and while the vegetables were cooking, there was just enough time to assemble a pie.  I had a disk of dough in the refrigerator, so I rolled it out, whisked up the pumpkin filling, and put it in to bake.  Warm pumpkin pie was ready shortly after we finished dinner.  We worked hard all day and deserved a home cooked meal!

Now, I'm still going to use canned pumpkin.  It's great to keep in the pantry--I got some out this morning and had muffins ready in 30 minutes (20 minutes was baking time). You may have noticed my love of muffins.  They are everything I want in a baked good:  quick and easy to make, satisfying our sweet tooth without guilt.

I still have half a can I see pumpkin pancakes in our future?  Thanksgiving is so close...I'll be getting a couple pie pumpkins this week so I can roast them ahead of time.  What's your favorite pumpkin recipe?  Are you planning ahead for your Thanksgiving feast?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Chocolate peanut butter cake

Over the weekend, in addition to our usual Halloween tricks, our family gathered to celebrate a very special aunt's 97th birthday.  A grand occasion deserves a grand cake, and this Smitten Kitchen recipe received so many raves that it seemed a sure thing.  Not to mention, it reminded me of the "Johnnie Walker" of family legend, a chocolate/peanut butter/ice cream concoction that the birthday aunt invented for her nieces and nephews long before Dairy Queen was churning out Blizzards.

Trick or treat, give us something good to eat...

Sometimes I enjoy baking a cake more than I enjoy eating it.  I'd rather have a nice slice of pumpkin pie, or maybe some tea and a scone.  Cakes laden with frosting so sweet your teeth hurt are not my thing.  But I do enjoy the engineering and, dare I say, artistry that go into a big layer cake, so I try to find recipes that taste as good as they look.

This three-layer chocolate peanut butter cake is a perfect party cake (so long as your guests aren't allergic to peanuts--in our house, the peanut allergies have thankfully been outgrown).  It's achingly rich, so whether you make it in 8 or 9 inch pans, you'll have enough to serve at least two dozen people.  It looks sophisticated, but it tastes like an over-the-top peanut butter cup.  The chocolate cake may be the moistest I've ever made (which also makes it fragile--if you make it, don't skip the part about freezing the layers before you stack them).  If you're lucky enough to have some cake left over, it keeps nicely in the refrigerator for several days so you can carve slivers off it between meals.

After eating a slice of this, might I suggest jumping into a big pile of leaves to burn off a couple calories.