Friday, April 5, 2013

Baking Bread at Home

At any given time you will find this container in my extra fridge in my garage.  It has a 6 quart capacity and it came in a 2 pack.  This one holds my bread dough, the other one holds flour.  I actually have other containers for flour, but when I started baking bread, I purchased flour in larger quantities and so I have to fill not only my old canister, one of these too.

Last fall, I had read and tried some no-knead bread recipes with success.  As much as I enjoy baking, I usually avoided anything that involved yeast and kneading and waiting.  I'd thought about a bread machine, I know many people who love them, they often use them for the mixing, kneading and rising part of the task and then bake the bread in the oven.  But I just had not spent the money on one.  Then my friend Allison told me about a book devoted to no-knead bread.  I actually ordered it via my Amazon app right then and there and it arrived two days later.  And to be very cliche- The rest was history.

The basic idea behind no-knead bread is that you can just mix the ingredients together, cover and let rise and then bake them in a specific way that allows it to rise again and bake.  That's my very, very simple explanation.  There is some science involved with the moisture of the dough and letting rise and all that good stuff too.  The book that I have, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day has really changed my life.  It really does take just five minutes and I have really made more bread from scratch and not purchased bread at the store very often.  Not just this French style boule loaves in my photos, but sandwich bread and breakfast bread as well.

In the above photo, on the left is the dough right after I mixed it.  On the right is after it sat on the counter for about an hour.  It's actually ready to use after 2 hours, but it's a bit easier to work with if you then put it in the fridge and it gets cold.

This is a photo of one of my very first loaves.  I forgot to cut slits in the dough.  But it still turned out very nice.  I bake mine using Pampered Chef's stoneware covered baker, keeping it covered for part of the cooking time which creates the steam needed to create the crackling crust.  In the book they explain all about having the moisture (steam) in the baking process and how to achieve that.
Above is another close up photo of one of my more recent loaves that has the nice slit in the top and a crisp crackling crust.  On Christmas Eve I made several loaves and served them warm with a dish of good olive oil with a drizzle of thick balsamic vinegar mixed in for dipping.  Pure heaven!

This is a loaf of Cinnamon Raisin Bread.  I made this using the Buttermilk Bread recipe in the book.  Leftover slices of the bread also made delicious French Toast!  I have also made mini loaves that I paired with a jar of homemade pumpkin butter and gave those as teacher gifts at Christmas.

The primary reason the book titles says that you can make bread in five minutes a day is because when you mix the dough at the quantities given in the recipe, it's enough for several loaves, so after that initial mixing (which is also very easy to do by hand and takes just a few minutes) you let it rise, then you can put it away in the fridge and just pull out some to bake when you want.  Easy!  The secondary title of the book- The Discovery that Revolutionizes Home Baking is the absolute truth.  It's made me want to try other breads and because I've purchases larger quantities of flour and yeast, I always have the ingredients on hand and it saves me money. Besides a large variety of bread recipes, the book includes recipes for dishes you can make with your bread.  It's just a fantastic resource and it's been living on my kitchen counter.   If you are at all interested in baking breads, I highly recommend you get this book.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Easy Marinara Sauce

Start the sauce off with finely diced carrot, celery, onion and garlic.  And then you have the finished tomato goodness!
 So I have recently been making this sauce quite a bit for a variety of reasons.  I've taught my cooking students how to make it.  I've been working quite a few Make Ahead Meal nights where we have made the sauce, I made Chicken Parmesan for clients multiple times in the last month and this is the sauce I list with that recipe.  I make spaghetti for my family every other week.  You could say this sauce has been on my mind a lot.  So I decided it deserved it's own post.  For me, this sauce is a starting point; I simmer lean beef or sausage in it for a meat sauce.  I throw in other veggies like mushroom, spinach or kale.  It's the sauce I use for lasagna, chicken parm, baked ziti or spaghetti casserole.  Make a big batch, split it up in containers and freeze it.  I usually always have some in my freezer because I can turn it into a meal very quickly on a busy night.  But also, a single batch can be made quickly and eaten just as quick.  :)

Erika’s Easy Marinara Sauce

1 tbl olive oil
2 cloves crushed garlic
1 medium carrot, finely diced
2 ribs of celery, finely diced
1/2 onion (yellow or red, whatever you like), finely diced
1 32 oz can crushed tomatoes (can be the kind seasoned with oregano and basil, or not)
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 6 oz can tomato paste
6 oz of water or broth (just fill the tomato paste can)
1 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning (contains basil, oregano, thyme, marjoram, rosemary, minced garlic, crushed red pepper)
2 tsp. sugar (or equivalent sugar substitute)

In medium pot heat oil over medium heat, add garlic, carrot, celery and onion.  Stir frequently and cook down until they are soft and begin to caramelize.
Add the Italian seasoning, stir and cook a few minutes more until the seasonings are fragrant.
Add cans of tomatoes, sauce and paste. Fill paste can w/ water or broth (I use water) and add just some of it to pot. Stir to incorporate the paste into the sauce. If it seems too thick, add more water.  Simmer for 5 minutes.
Add sugar (or substitute), stir and taste, if too tart for your taste, add more sugar.
Cover the pot and let the sauce boil. The sauce can still boil even on a lower heat; this can keep it from boiling over in the pot and/or splattering when you lift the lid. Let it simmer, stirring occasionally for 10-15 minutes.
At this point, it's ready for use or you can keep simmering for 30 minutes. 

Options:  After the initial 15 minute simmer, I have added uncooked ground Italian sausage and/or ground beef or turkey.  Lean beef must be very lean to minimize the added oil to the sauce, but I have found that cooking the meat in the sauce really enhances the flavors together.  Simmer for 30 minutes to an hour on low.

Add chopped spinach or kale and let it cook for another 15 minutes.  Or include mushrooms when you are first starting with the carrot, celery and onion.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Budget Beef and Broccoli

Much like my Cheap and Easy Turkey Stir Fry, semi-authentic beef and broccoli can be made with just a few pantry/freezer staples.  It's the sort of thing I can put together when I'm getting low on groceries or low on cash and need to shop frugally.  It can also be a great regular option in your meal planning since it takes just a few cheap ingredients and if you keep your pantry stocked, you'll have everything you need to have this dish ready in no time.  And if you think about what you pay for a pound of lean ground beef and a little less than a pound of fresh broccoli, you find yourself with a very inexpensive meal!

This is not an Earth-shattering revolution in cooking.  It's very simple. You can easily make this same recipe using more traditional thinly sliced flank or sirloin steak.  Both are fairly inexpensive cuts of beef.  But the difference is that generally you marinate that in garlic and soy sauce and dredge in flour or cornstarch.  I happen to like this recipe, still fairly simple (to me at least) and more like what you might expect in a restaurant.  The beauty of  my budget version, besides being cheap is it's basically a one-pot meal, it's relatively low calorie if you are using 75% or 80% lean ground beef, and broccoli is a great source of Vitamin C as well as a good source of Vitamin A.

Budget Beef and Broccoli

1 lb Lean Ground Beef
1 generous tablespoon Canola or Vegetable Oil
2 Crowns of Broccoli (about 1/2 lb), chopped into fairly small pieces.
2 Cloves minced/crushed Garlic or 1 teaspoon Garlic Powder
Fresh Cracked Pepper (just use as little or as much as you like)

1 tablespoon Soy Sauce (reduced sodium is best)
 1/4 cup Water or Beef Broth
2 teaspoons Cornstarch
1 tablespoon Oyster Sauce (optional, but you really should just have a bottle if you do any Asian cooking)

In a wok or a heavy bottom skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Break off the ground beef in bits, no need to roll them into balls, just pinch off pieces and place on the pan, try not to let them touch. Let them sear for a few minutes, then add fresh garlic or garlic powder, then using a spatula, move things around to turn over the pieces of ground beef.  Add the broccoli and mix it all up.  If you have a lid for your pan, cover it or just grab a cookie sheet and cover it for a bit (like 3-4 minutes) so the broccoli can steam and get crisp/tender. 

In a measuring cup or small bowl, mix the sauce ingredients together.  Uncover the pan, move the beef and broccoli to the outer edges of the pan and pour in the sauce in the middle of the pan, then using your spatula, start mixing everything around.  As the sauce heats and begins to boil, the cornstarch does its magic and creates a thicker, shiny sauce.  Mix thoroughly to coat everything.  If you want it saucier, just pour in another 1/4 cup of broth and mix it around.  If you didn't use broth, just add more water with a another 1/2 teaspoon each of soy sauce and oyster sauce.  Cover the pan for another couple minutes, then turn off the heat and let it rest for a couple more minutes then serve. 

Optional Sauce:  This dish is also excellent with a Japanese twist using teriyaki sauce instead.  And I love this simple homemade teriyaki sauce from Savory Sweet Life. When I do it this way, I add some broth or water with soy and oyster sauces into the pan as mentioned above, then right before the end, I pour in the teriyaki sauce and stir everything together to coat it.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Tomato, Avocado and Corn Salsa

Summer is here and I have many recipes I would love to share here, but I'm going to start with this one and hopefully add photos very soon.  I'm starting with this one because it's great when you need to bring an appetizer with you to a summer barbecue and perfect for the upcoming July 4th holiday.  Not to mention it's delicious and simple and the sort of thing you can make with ingredients from your own garden or local farmer's market.

Tomato, Avocado and Corn Salsa

2 avocados, pitted and cut into small cubes
3 medium tomatoes, diced
2 ears of corn or 1 ½ cups corn kernels
Fresh chopped cilantro (about ¼ of a bunch)
1 lime
Salt and fresh ground pepper
½ tsp chili powder

Place corn with the husks still on into the microwave and cook for 5 minutes to steam.  Or you can remove the husks, wrap with plastic wrap and then steam.  (no need to do this if using kernels already off the cob).  When cool, use a knife to slice downward and remove the kernels.  Can be done in advance and refrigerated.
Place corn, diced avocado and tomato into a bowl, season with salt, pepper and chili powder, squeeze all the juice from the lime and add cilantro.  Gently mix to incorporate it all.  Serve with tortilla chips or use to serve on tacos or in a salad.
Make ahead option- Combine everything except the avocado and just the juice from half of the lime.  When ready to serve, cut the avocado and add it with the remaining half of the lime juice and stir to combine.
Other items like diced onion, jalapenos and crushed garlic are great additions, but it’s very fresh and simple as written.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Well Stocked Pantry

Written by Chef Elisa Hindes, Sous Chef for Whole Foods Market and blogger, A Life in Pie

The Boy Scouts had it right when they coined their motto, “be prepared.” As with scouting, preparation is the key to success in cooking. While many an exciting new dish can be made by improvising with what you have laying around, preparation will save you precious time and money. The foundation of preparation in the kitchen starts with a well-stocked pantry. Keeping the essentials on hand will not only help you to avoid last minute problems (“I swear I had that!”), but enable you to cook a wide variety of foods without constant back-breaking trips to the grocery store.

When it comes to cooking, our mantra is fresh is best. But in the pantry, there are many dried, canned and boxed items that will prove invaluable to you. Here you will find a list of the essential items that will keep you cooking. Let’s assume that we all have flour, sugar, salt and pepper in our cupboards and build from there.

Stock or broth – chicken at a minimum but beef and vegetable are also helpful. The low sodium variety is best so that your food is not overly salty.
Canned, diced tomatoes in juice.
Canned tomato paste.
Dried pasta – Try keeping several varieties, including a long noodle such as spaghetti or fettuccini and a short noodle, such as penne or elbow.
Soy sauce – a naturally brewed variety, called tamari, is preferable over the usual supermarket brands.
Worcestshire sauce – great for adding a meaty flavor and color to sauces, gravies and roasts.
Olive oil Рextra virgin is your best friend for saut̩ing and making dressings and marinades.
Vegetable and/or canola oil Рyour second best friend for saut̩ing and making dressings and marinades.
Vinegar – cider and white wine are good versatile vinegars to have on hand but red wine, rice, and balsamic are so widely used it is hard to leave them out.
Cornstarch – used for thickening sauces and gravies and also comes in handy in some breading applications.
Canned beans – kidney, pinto and black beans can be used in a variety of cold and hot dishes.
Canned fruit – pineapple and mandarin oranges right out of the can are perfect for tossing into both green and fruit salads.
Rice – long or medium grain white rice and brown rice will cover your bases in everyday applications. If you like to get fancy once in a while, stock some Italian arborrio rice for making risotto.
Condiments -- ketchup, mustard (Dijon and yellow), mayonnaise, barbeque sauce and hot sauce. 
Honey- Sometimes just a few drizzles can add a little sweetness to a vinaigrette or a sauce.
Dried herbs and spices – OK, this one could be an article on its own but the essentials include rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, dill, tarragon, bay leaves, paprika, garlic powder, chile powder, cayenne pepper, cumin, and coriander. An all-purpose blend such as Jane’s Crazy Mixed-Up Salt or Mrs. Dash can also come in handy when you need to simply season a burger or piece of chicken. If you really want to go crazy, buy whole spices and grind them yourself in a coffee grinder (for spices only, please). Otherwise, try to buy small quantities from a store that sells bulk spices so you’re sure to use them up while they are still fresh.
Capers – these salty, tart little bundles of flavor are the berry of a flowering shrub. Use them in Italian and Mediterranean cooking.
Sundried tomatoes – they are one of the biggest food “fad” ingredients for a reason. You can’t beat them for adding concentrated, sweet tomato flavor to any dish.
Bread crumbs – Japanese panko crumbs create a light, crispy coating on anything fried. Standard dried breadcrumbs will do in a pinch. Or make your own by drying out the leftover odds and ends of bread in a low oven and grinding it in the food processor.
Peanut butter – not just for sandwiches, you can use it in Asian dishes and dressings.

Here are a few extra ingredients for the gourmets out there.
Anchovies – much maligned salty little fish, essential in pasta puttanesca and many other Italian, French and Mediterranean dishes.
Olives – kalamata, Spanish, oil cured, the list goes on.
White truffle oil – when you really want to impress someone, drizzle a tiny amount over pasta or risotto with mushrooms.
Premium olive oil – it is well worth the high price when you want the flavor of the oil to come through, usually in uncooked applications. 
Ethnic spices and spice blends – such as garam masala, curry, fenugreek, smoked paprika, cardamom, star anise, Chinese five spice powder and Schezuan peppercorns.
Asian condiments – chili sauce, black bean sauce, hoisin, oyster sauce, fish sauce, you get the picture.
Coconut milk – a must for Thai cooking.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Breakfast Burritos

My sister is a fabulous chef and she inspires me all the time.  As a side note, she's is the genius behind A Life In Pie.  Before she had her current job as a sous chef with Whole Foods, she was doing some catering and supplying several of her local coffee carts with breakfast burritos.  When my baby boy was born, she came to visit and supplied us with a bunch of burritos which provided me with easy breakfast for the family both on weekdays or when we're out the door early on the a weekend for a soccer game.  My husband loves to have them on hand at work because it can give him a filling start to a busy day where he often doesn't have a chance to eat until the late afternoon.  Ever since her visit in May, I've managed to usually have a supply of breakfast burritos in our freezer.
There are plenty of recipes out there for breakfast burritos.  I've had people ask me how I do it, so I thought I should finally take a moment to share.  So really I don't consider this a recipe so much as it's just a how-to.  Or more accurately, my how-to.  But the beauty of it, is it can become YOUR how-to.  Made them how you like, the sky is the limit on the combination of fillings.  Also, breakfast burritos are cheap!  For the size of tortillas I use, it's only a couple spoonfuls of filling and a pinch of cheese, so you can make a lot with not that much.  These aren't enormous restaurant breakfast burritos that put you in a coma, these are the perfect size to fuel your morning.

Breakfast Burritos
2 russet potatoes, diced fairly small
olive or canola oil
4 eggs, scrambled with about 1/4 cup milk
salt, pepper or seasoning salt
1/2 lb bulk breakfast sausage
1 1/2 to 2 cups shredded cheese
12 tortillas (I use the Jumbo size sold at my local Costco)
Plastic wrap and zipper bags for storage

Heat a large pan over medium high, drizzle enough oil to coat the pan and add the potatoes.  Stir frequently and season as you like.  When the potatoes are cooked there and many are crispy, transfer them to a plate or bowl while you finish the other parts.  Using the same pan, add the breakfast sausage, breaking it apart into crumbles.  When that's cooked through, turn the heat to medium, you can spoon off any extra oil or grease and discard.  Then pour in the scrambled egg and milk mixture, stir constantly and quickly to cook the eggs.  Turn off the heat to avoid overcooking the eggs.  Add the potatoes back in, combine it all together and then set aside to cool for a bit.
See how much filling that makes?

Prepare to roll your tortillas- Take a dinner plate, stack about 4 tortillas on it, pop it in the microwave for about 30 seconds.  (Unless your tortillas are at room temp which in that case you can skip that part and just stack them all on the plate)  Get your cheese ready and then take about 2 spoonfuls (I use a dinner spoon, which is bigger than a tea spoon), add a generous pinch of cheese, then fold the burrito.
Wrap the burrito tightly with some plastic wrap, then on to the next one.

Here's a little video I found to show you how to wrap a burrito- Burrito Wrapping Instructions

My finished burritos!  I made 12 with just that small inexpensive amount of filling
Place them all in a zipper bag or a airtight container and place them in your freezer.  When you want to eat one, a frozen one takes about 2-3 minutes in the microwave if it has a turn table, or if not, do it in one minute intervals just to be sure it heats evenly.  If it's not frozen, it takes about a minute.  We often stick them in to heat, go finish getting ready, then grab them on the way out the door.

So- The possibilities are endless.  Increase the "fuel-factor" and saute kale or spinach with mushroom in a little olive oil, then use 2 whole eggs, 2 egg whites scrambled together and add some diced ham or use turkey sausage.  Or make it more authentic; black beans, eggs, salsa (or diced tomatoes) and cheese.  Sometimes when we have leftovers from tacos, like rice, beans and a little meat, I just use that with a a couple of eggs and the leftover cheese.  Leave a comment to let me know what combination of filling you make!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Potato and Vegetable Hash

I love breakfast.  Sometimes when we have busy mornings and I only grab a Luna bar or something snack-like for breakfast, I still need to then have a real breakfast.  Even when it’s noon, I still need breakfast before moving onto lunch.  Awhile ago I was out to breakfast and I saw an item on the menu called Farmer’s Market Hash.  I actually didn’t order it, but I saw it and I kept thinking I wanted to create my own version at home.  So the beauty of this is just the method, the ingredients and amounts don’t matter.  I love recipes like that.

Start with potatoes and veggies of your choice.  I used purple, red and Yukon gold potatoes, a sweet potato, carrots, some red onion and kale.  Plus a couple of cloves of garlic.  (Or less if you don't like garlic)
Dice everything up pretty small.  Even sizes ensures that things cook equally, but small also helps it all cook quickly.  While you're dicing, heat a pan with some olive oil, probably a tablespoon or so, more if you're making a big batch. Season as you go; I sprinkle with some sea salt, a few twists from my pepper grinder and then toward the end I add my salt-free seasoning.
When the potatoes and other veggies are almost tender, add the kale that you have washed and chopped.  Season everything a little more and stir frequently.  

For me, I consider it done when everything is tender and the outsides are crispy.  I love to eat mine with an over easy egg on top.