Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Kitchen Renovation

(image from Trinity Law School)

Things have been a little intense around our house for the past week or so. My law school orientation started last week, and while orientation sounds like it should be pretty low-key, I've had 2 hours of class each morning, have been sitting in mandatory lectures/panels/discussions for many hours each day, and still have many more hours of reading to do each night. I'm not complaining (really), but I sure am glad that they gave us a week with just one class to allow us to transition. Because, well, it's going to be tough to find balance between life (husband, cooking, running, friends) and school (reading, reading, reading, reading, class).

To add a little more stress (but also fun) to the mix, the kitchen renovation that we've been working on took a major step forward on Monday! A lot of work was done by my parents (who are super handy), but for the sink upgrade and laying of the granite counter top we call called in the experts. I was in class and then in lectures all day while this was happening (of course), which is tough for a control freak like me. But Tom's father came up for the day and oversaw the whole thing.

And the kitchen that once looked like this:
When I came back from school that evening, looked like this:

*I promise to post an actual recipe soon (I have some great ones waiting), but I need to get oriented a little better first. :o)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


This past Sunday, my friend Shannon and I wandered over to Prospect Park in Brooklyn with the single goal of eating as many different types of pie as possible.

Shannon (as she often does) stumbled across a super cool event that charged a minimal amount and offered good food (can you say "the perfect friend"?!). We paid our $10 suggested donation and scoped out the two tables worth of home baked pies.

There was a preponderance of crusts flavored with thyme, not nearly enough stone fruit pies for my taste, and some delicious old favorites (whoopie pies!). While I didn't taste a perfect pie (mastering the delicate balance of crust/filling ratio), I did enjoy seeing the unique and often tasty pairings that the bakers presented.

The most interesting pie of the day was definitely the bing cherry and bacon marmalade pie with duck fat and thyme crust, though for my taste there should have been more filling and slightly less crust.

And the best pie overall was the s'more pie (which we ate before getting a picture, oops), which perfectly captured the campfire s'more and had a delightful graham cracker crust.

We had a blast and while I'm entertaining the idea of entering a pie or two of my own next year, we were definitely inspired to host a PIE SUNDAY among our friends. It seems like the perfect way to share recipes, tips about getting the perfect crust, and of course - eating pie!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Cowboy Cookies

These cookies are a go-to for me. In fact, most times I have available a lump of this cookie dough frozen, so if we get a hankering for something sweet, pure bliss is only about 10 minutes away.

I found this recipe in a Martha Stewart Living magazine ages ago and it has definitely stood the test of time. I think the fact that it's stuffed with basically every awesome flavor ever (except marshmallow I guess) makes it a clear champion.

If you're on a diet or have a nut-allergy this is not for you (though you could omit the nuts all together I suppose). But if you want a super tasty, substantial and gooey cookie, plug in your mixer, because I promise you won't be disappointed. The only difficulty I can attest to, is not shoveling spoonfuls of the dough in your mouth while standing over the kitchen sink. Wait, did I just admit to that?...

Cowboy Cookies adapted (barely) from Martha Stewart Living Magazine

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt (or regular salt if for some reason you prefer)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, cut into chunks (I used chips because that's what I had)
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper*. In a medium-sized bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder.

2. In a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugars on medium-high until pale and creamy, about 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium. Add the eggs, one at a time, scrape down the sides and beat well after each addition. Add the vanilla.

3. Reduce speed to low, and slowly add the flour mixture. Add the oats, chocolate, walnuts, and coconut. Beat until just combined.

4. Using a 1 1/2 inch ice cream scoop or a small spoon, drop dough onto baking sheets, spacing 3 inches apart. (The cookies will spread!)

5. Bake until edges of cookies begin to brown, 10 to 13 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the sheets for about 5 minutes. Then transfer the cookies to wire racks and let them cool for another 10 minutes before eating (good luck with that).

Cookies can be stored for up to 3 days. Unused dough can be frozen and stored indefinitely. I don't bother to defrost the dough before baking and there is no discernible difference.

*I always use parchment paper to line the cookie sheets, even if the sheets are non-stick. The parchment not only makes clean-up super easy, it keeps the cookie bottoms from overcooking before the rest of the cookie is done.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Oatmeal Molasses Bread

The honey-wheat bread from last week was such a big hit, that I almost just made it again. But how silly would that be considering the growing stack of yeast bread recipes I have gathering on the table? So, in the spirit of this blog I tried something new and the results did not disappoint.

I mean really really surpassed even our pretty high expectations. The dough is not heavy at all, the oatmeal adds a lovely flavor, and the hint of molasses gives it nice depth, making a bread perfect as a treat on its own, or as a vehicle for a sandwich. In fact, I'm eating a plain "mis-cut" slice of it right now (to destroy the evidence...).

The recipe made two loaves and instead of halving it (thankfully!), I'm already planning on french toast for dinner one night this week. This bread as french toast, well, I just can't think of anything much better than that.

I realized after typing out the instructions that they maybe seem a bit long, but I promise that this bread is actually easier to make than the previous recipe, so if you're still yeast-bread shy, this would be a pretty easy foray into this (truly not scary) realm.

*I apologize for the color of the images taken in my kitchen. I'm working on a lighting solution, because I find it so off-putting. Please bear with me as I figure out the best fix. :o)

Oatmeal Molasses Bread from Williams Sonoma's "Essentials of Baking"

2 1/3 cups of water
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cubed
1/3 cup unsulfured molasses
2 packages active dry yeast
5 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
2 teaspoons sea salt

1. Bring water to a boil. Place the oats into a heatproof bowl, pour the boiling water over the oats. Add the butter and molasses, and let the mixture cool to between 105 - 115°F; about 10 minutes.

2. In a large bowl dissolve the yeast in the warm oat mixture and let stand for 5 minutes.

3. Stir in 3 cups of flour and the salt, adding 1 cup of flour at a time. Add the remaining 2 cups of flour (a bit at a time), mixing well until it has formed a soft dough.

4. Scrape the dough onto a floured work surface. Knead the dough, adding just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, this should take between 5 - 7 minutes. You can check the readiness with the windowpane test.

5. Form the dough into a ball and place it in a lightly greased bowl. Cover with a plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place, without drafts, until it doubles. This could take anywhere between 1/2 hour (in my pizza-oven like apartment) to a full hour. To tell if the dough has truly doubled, take two fingers and press them into the dough, if the indentation remains (does not bounce back) your dough is ready.

6. Oil two 9x5 inch loaf pans. Deflate the dough (no need to punch, just lightly press down), and place it on a clean surface. Cut the dough in half using a knife or pastry scraper.

7. For each half, use the palm of your hand to flatten the dough into a rectangle. Roll the top third down onto itself and seal the seam by pushing the dough together. Don't be shy; you don't want the dough to bake apart. Roll the bottom third up and seal the seam. Place the dough logs into the pans, seam side down and gently flatten them evenly. The ends of the dough should touch the ends of the pans.

8. Cover them loosely with a clean towel and let them rise until they've doubled in size. The top of the loaves should crest the loaf pans. This should take between 45 and 60 minutes.

9. Position a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat to 375°F. Mist the tops of the loaves with water and sprinkle with rolled oats or sunflower seeds. Bake until the loaves are golden brown and the internal temperature is about 190°F. When the loaves are done, they will sound hollow when the bottoms are tapped. This should take between 40 to 45 minutes.

10. Cool for 1 to 2 hours before slicing. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Southern Cornbread

My father-in-law loves cornbread. But not just any cornbread. And certainly not sweet cornbread. He's from West Virginia originally (does that really count as the South?) and turns his nose at the sweet and cakey (read delicious) stuff we Northerners think of as cornbread.

So for his birthday, I researched a bunch of different recipes and decided on a hybrid that *thankfully* met with his approval. Note that there is very little flour in this version making the results fairly dense. But it got 2 thumbs up and an assurance that this is "real" cornbread. My only regret is that I don't have a cast iron skillet, but that's not specific to this recipe. It's a general life regret. Someday...

This recipe is super simple, so simple that to make myself feel like I was really doing something, I made the buttermilk from scratch*. I think next time I might add some actual kernels of corn (cooked of course). I don't want to mess with a good thing, but if it's not sweet, it might as well have some fun bits inside. Which might just be a new personal motto.

*Making buttermilk is easy peasy. I especially love to do this when a recipe calls for a small amount and I don't want to buy an entire carton at the store. Just mix a ratio of 1 cup of whole milk to 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice. Let it hang out for about 10 minutes; it will thicken and curdle slightly. And voila - homemade buttermilk.

Southern Cornbread

2 cups of yellow cornmeal
½ cup sifted flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 egg lightly beaten
2 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons bacon fat (or vegetable oil)

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Put the drippings in a cake pan or cast iron skillet and place it in the oven for a few minutes until it’s sizzling.

2. Mix together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt.

3. Whisk together egg and buttermilk. Combine with dry ingredients.

4. Remove the cake pan from the oven and pour the hot oil into the batter. Mix thoroughly.

5. Bake in oven for 25 minutes or until the top is browned and the cornbread has started to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Honey Wheat Bread

Because of our money-saving mode, we have been taking our lunches every day. Which isn't a huge deal for me, because my lunch is basically a granola bar and some wheat crackers. But poor Tom has been stuck with that plus the same old chicken sandwich with horseradish sauce every day for the last 2 months. Sometimes he'd be really crazy and substitute peanut butter and jelly. Insane, right?Well, he finally reached his breaking point (who could blame him?) and yelled uncle. Really he yelled "I can't eat this s*&!t anymore," but I digress. So we spent a little while brainstorming what he could eat and decided on some pretty tasty options, and one of the main changes is using homemade bread. Which I'm super excited about.
The first recipe I decided to try is a honey-wheat bread, and for a yeast bread* it's pretty simple. Next time I will be better about forming it to fit the pan, as I didn't pinch the folds together well enough and some of my slices were perfectly baked in 3 separated parts. But all in all a success. Oh, and the taste? Amazing!

*If you're new to yeast breads, this is a good one to start with. It calls for instant yeast, which doesn't have to be proofed in the same way as regular active yeast. Make sure you buy the right stuff though!

Honey Wheat Bread
adapted from Essentials of Baking and The Bread Baker's Apprentice

2 1/2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tbsp. honey (I used clover honey)
1 1/2 tsps. salt
3 tbsps. instant non-fat dry milk
1 1/2 tsps. instant yeast
2 tbsps. unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups water, at room temperature

1. Combine flours, salt, dry milk and yeast in a medium-sized bowl. Add the butter, honey and water. Stir until all the ingredients come together and form a ball. If your mixture is still a bit dry (mine was) slowly add a bit more water until it combines.

2. Dust the counter with whole wheat flour and transfer the dough ball onto the counter. Knead the dough by hand for 10 minutes. (You can use a dough hook & mixer for 6 minutes, but kneading is probably the most relaxing thing in the world, so why would you?). Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the kneaded dough into the bowl. Roll the dough around to coat it with oil and cover the bowl with a kitchen towel.

3. Leave the dough out at room temperature until it has doubled in size. Between 1 to 2 hours. To tell if it has truly doubled, insert two fingers into the dough, if the indentation stays (doesn't bounce back) you're good to go.

4. Remove the dough onto a lightly floured surface and form it into a rectangle, about 6 inches x 10 inches. With the short side of the dough closest to you, fold the dough up to the middle of the rectangle. Pinch the seam (really, do this!). Now fold the short edge farthest away from you, to the edge closest to you and pinch the seam until the dough comes together.

5. Lightly oil your 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch loaf pan (mine is glass, but metal works just as well). And place your formed loaf inside, making sure that the ends of the loaf touch the ends of the pan. Spray a little cooking spray over top of the loaf and cover with plastic wrap.

6. Proof at room temperature until the dough rises just over the lip of the pan. This took about 40 minutes in my summer-hot apartment, but could take up to 90 minutes. Just keep an eye on it.

7. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) with the oven rack in the middle.

8. Bake the bread for 30 minutes, it should be golden brown on top. Tip it out of the pan and insert an instant read thermometer in the underside, the temperature should be about 190°F in the middle.

9. Let rest for about 2 hours before slicing. I enjoyed a slice (or two) and then froze the rest for sandwiches during the week.