Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Irish Soda Bread - Happy Belated Saint Patrick's Day!



Happy Belated Saint Patrick’s Day!  Here’s a beautiful Irish Soda Bread that I was thrilled to have for breakfast this weekend in celebration.  Thanks Tuesdays with Dorie for selecting this excellent (and super easy) bread from Baking with Julia.


I like a touch of sweetness in my breakfast bread – so I added a half teaspoon of cinnamon and a half cup of raisins to the basic Irish Soda Bread recipe.  Topped with delicious Kerrygold Irish Sweet Cream Butter and some fig jam it was a lovely start to my day of festivities.


Saint Patrick’s Day is a huge deal in Chicago.  There are some cultural celebrations – but it seems it's mainly about the drinking.  Or so I realized as I was returning home from a trip to Florida a couple days prior.  The whole planeload of people, including TWO Bachelorette parties, were choosing to leave Miami and Fort Lauderdale for their events – and travel to Chicago.  It was a rowdy crowd.


Chicago also has another tradition for Saint Patrick’s Day – to dye the Chicago River green.  It actually starts with some sort of orange powder being dumped in the river via a boat, and when the powder mixes with the waves in the water: voila, a neon green.  And it was extra green this year.  We have a fantastic view of the events right from our living room.


And the river only gets greener for the next few hours…..


Short post for today – please visit Carla's blog Chocolate Moosey  for the recipe for this Irish Soda Bread.  It’s great, even when it’s not Saint Patrick’s Day.  No waiting for the dough to rise, no stand mixer necessary – just a fork, a bowl, your hands, and less than one minute of kneading.


I’ll strive to make my next posts reflect the tropical food I was so lucky to have these past couple weeks down in Florida and the Caribbean while on vacation.  I’m thinking lots of coconut…..

Monday, February 27, 2012

Perfect Banana Bread



My post today is on banana bread.  Not just any banana bread, but the BEST kind – super moist, not too sweet, with rich banana flavor and toasted walnut pieces.  This recipe, originally created by Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery, has been my go to banana bread recipe for probably about seven years.

Years ago when I lived in Boston a small place called Flour Bakery + Café opened in the far reaches of the South End.  This was a street that was practically barren of restaurants and food options, even though the surrounding streets had finally become slowly gentrified and had all sorts of young working professionals and families moving in.  When Flour opened it was a HUGE deal in the neighborhood.  So instantly welcome and well reviewed that I would walk the six blocks from my office to grab a quick sandwich or pastry – eat it in less than 5 minutes – and then walk back six blocks to keep within my lunch “hour”.

One of my favorite items on the menu, even for lunch, was their super moist banana bread.  So I was thrilled when I came across a recipe for it in a food magazine (I think it was maybe in Food & Wine) and was finally able to recreate an entire loaf at home for weekend snacking.  I quickly lost the ripped out magazine page with the recipe, but thankfully I’d transcribed the recipe into a notebook at some point.  However, last year Joanne Chang came out with a cookbook entitled Flour – Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Café, and there is a complete (and improved) recipe for Flour’s Famous Banana Bread.  I bought the cookbook instantly of course… pre-ordered it before it even came out actually.  Now with the recipe safely in a hardbound cookbook with glossy photos I’ll never have to worry about losing it again.  And I can keep baking my way through the other amazing creations from Flour Bakery.  Flour’s Banana Bread - it’s a little piece of home, here in Chicago.



This post coincides with the Daring Baker’s challenge for February.  I chose to feature this recipe so that it would always be handy for me to find on the web if I ever needed to make it and was away from home! The Daring Bakers’ February 2012 host was – Lis! Lis stepped in last minute and challenged us to create a quick bread we could call our own. She supplied us with a base recipe and shared some recipes she loves from various websites and encouraged us to build upon them and create new flavor profiles.

I have adapted the original Flour recipe over the years.  First – the recipe calls for crème fraiche or sour cream.  I usually don’t have either ingredient in the house and almost always make this banana bread on a whim so I don’t like to rush out to buy just one last minute ingredient.  I’ve found that whole milk yogurt (which I always have in the house) is a fantastic substitute.  Plain, Strawberry, Banana Flavored, or Greek – it’s all worked for me!

Secondly, while the original recipe just includes walnuts, when this is a weekend indulgence I usually add about a half a cup of chocolate chips to the batter before baking.  Or slice up some good bar chocolate.  Again – I’ve tried making it with semisweet, milk chocolate, bittersweet, and white chocolate - you just can’t go wrong.  Just use up whatever leftover chocolate pieces are in the pantry.

Finally, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have extremely ripe bananas to use in this recipe.  Not spotted – but totally brown bananas.  So I don’t have to plain ahead for this I usually (accidently) let a few bananas get over-ripe every few shopping trips.  When this happens I throw them whole and unpeeled into the freezer.  They keep for months.  When I want to make banana bread I just defrost them in the kitchen sink for an hour or so and they are perfect.

Flour’s Famous Banana Bread
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp kosher or sea salt
1 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
2 eggs at room temperature
½ cup canola oil
4 very ripe, small to medium bananas, peeled and mashed (defrosted first if using frozen bananas).  Should be about 1 1/3 cups total.
2 tbsp whole milk yogurt (plain or any flavor, or substitute sour cream)
1 tsp vanilla extract
¾ cup walnut pieces, toasted and then cooled
½ cup chocolate chips or chopped pieces of chocolate (milk, semisweet, white, or bittersweet)

1) Preheat your oven to 325.  Butter a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan and keep aside.  Place a sheet pan in the oven (to catch any possible batter overflow) on a rack underneath the rack you’ll use to place the loaf pan on.

2) In a medium bowl add the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.  Stir together well with a whisk and set aside.

3) Attach a whisk attachment to your stand mixer and beat together the eggs and sugar on medium speed for 5 -7 minutes until at a “ribbon stage”.
With the mixer on slow speed slowly drizzle in the canola oil.  This step should take a full minute as you don’t want to deflate your batter.  Add the smashed up bananas, yogurt, and vanilla and mix on low speed until everything is just combined.

4) Remove the bowl from the mixer and BY HAND (so you don’t end up with a tough cake) fold in the flour mixture with a spatula.  Once it’s just incorporated fold in the walnut pieces and any desired chocolate pieces.  Pour into the loaf pan.

5) Bake for between 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes, turning the pan 180 degrees at the half hour mark.  The loaf should be golden brown and when you touch the banana bread the surface should spring back slightly rather than cause a dent.

6) Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for half an hour and then remove it from the pan to cool completely.

Eat immediately, or once cool you can wrap this in plastic wrap and keep it at room temp for a few days.  The flavors only get better on the second day!   You can also freeze the loaf for a few weeks and then defrost at room temp.





Wednesday, February 15, 2012

California Turkey Burger Salad



Just a quick, and very un-Valentine’s Day themed post today on a California Turkey Burger Salad! Maybe it's just the thing to have (or just look at) after all the overindulgence of chocolate yesterday....

The Daring Cooks’ February 2012 challenge was hosted by Audax & Lisa and they chose to present Patties for their ease of construction, ingredients and deliciousness! We were given several recipes, and learned the different types of binders and cooking methods to produce our own tasty patties!


I chose a variation of the California Turkey Burger – I made the patties from the recipe provided and adapted the rest into a salad.  For me the word California in a food title means just one thing… avocado!  One of my favorite healthy indulgences. 


While the recipe was not much of a shock, I must say that the extremely detailed methods and hints given by Audax & Lis on how to form and fry the best patties were very helpful!  This was the first time I have ever used a measuring cup to portion out and form my burger patties – with great results.  It was also the first time I learned that refrigerating your patties after forming them (and before frying them) helps them to retain their shape.


Although I followed the shallow pan frying method that was required for the challenge, I did change up the cooking method a bit towards the end.  I find that turkey patties have a tendency to dry out rather quickly since they do not have as much fat in the meat as say a beef burger.  Therefore, after I got a nice brown on each side of the patty I added a cup of water to the skillet and covered it with a large lid.  This method steams the patties with moist heat allowing the turkey burger to cook through fully without becoming dry or burning.


If you’d like the recipe for a classic California Turkey burger – and the vast amount of information on how to make the best patties possible please visit Audax’s blog here!



Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Classic White Loaf Bread



Today is the first posting of the new Tuesdays With Dorie baking group!  The group finished up Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home to Yours at the end of the year and is now baking their way through every recipe in the cookbook Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan.  This hefty cookbook focuses on Julia Child’s recipes from her Master Chef cooking series.  Julia Child + Dorie Greenspan = fantastic book.  I will be very surprised if any of these recipes turn out to be duds.  Instead I expect a delicious year (or two) ahead of fluffy biscuits, rich cakes, decadent tarts, and moist breads.  Exciting!


I’ve had this book for ages… at least 3 moves ago.  So – probably over 10 years.  And while I’d put post-its on at least 10 recipes I wanted to make – I’ve never ended up baking a single thing from it yet.  Terrible.   I’ve got so many cookbooks that sometimes I suffer from recipe overload…too many recipes to choose from so I go back to the same recipes and books over and over again.  It’s probably odd to say, but I probably get as much pleasure in reading my cookbooks like novels, as I do cooking and baking from them!  They’re like picture books for adults.  Anyways, needless to say, I’m thrilled to finally shake the dust off this beautiful book and begin using it as was intended.

The first recipe we tackled was classic White Loaves of bread on page 81 – starting with the basics is always good!  I love that although this book came out in 1996 it still assumes home bakers have good quality stand mixers at the ready.  It’s so much easier (and realistic) to follow a bread baking recipe that says “Working in the mixer with the dough hook in place…”  then to find out you’re expected to knead the dough by hand for 20 minutes.

Risen dough about to go in the oven

Following the recipe was straightforward, easy, and rewarding.  Very few bowls to clean, hardly any flour strewn about the kitchen, and as promised: loaves started in the morning were ready and waiting by lunchtime.  The texture of the bread is moist with no air pockets, the crust is nice and crisp, and the taste is fantastic.  And of course – the kitchen smells incredible for hours and hours.


This bread is perfect for sandwiches (a huge upgrade from normal sliced supermarket white bread) and even better toasted.  The recipe would be easy to dress up with some raisins and cinnamon or cocoa powder for a sweet breakfast bread as well. 

I’m thrilled with the results of the first recipe in Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan – and I look forward to the happy hours ahead in the kitchen with this baking group!   If you are interested in tackling this White Loaf recipe at home you can find the recipe here on Julies’ blog Someone’s in the Kitchen (this week’s challenge host).  


Monday, February 6, 2012

Asian Chicken Wings


Yesterday was Superbowl Sunday – and I, like many in America, was cooking chicken wings!  I originally planned to make these for my husband as he’s a big chicken wing fan.  Me, not so much.  Especially those glowing orange wings served with clumpy blue cheese and celery at so many sports bars.  So I decided to deviate from the normal super spicy hot sauce wings that I’m not a huge fan of and make a more nuanced Asian flavored chicken wing.

The results were savory and sweet with a little heat, and a touch of texture from the toasted sesame seeds and sliced scallions.  Lots of nice gooey sauce coated the wings and helped the toppings adhere.  There’s definitely room to play with any desired seasonings here.  A little sweet chili sauce, rice wine vinegar, dry mustard powder or hot spices would be great.

These are baked in the oven so there’s no need to light up a grill or heat up a pot of oil.  If you want to finish the skin extra crispy, you can carefully put the pan under the broiler for a few minutes – keeping a good eye on the chicken so it doesn’t burn.

The Superbowl didn't end as we wanted - but at least we ate well!



Asian Chicken Wings
Serves 2 as hearty appetizer/light entrée.  Scale up the recipe as needed!

Ingredients
2 tbsp soy sauce (preferably gluten free)
2 tbsp hoisin sauce
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp garlic paste (or finely chopped and smooshed garlic)
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp Chinese 5 spice powder
½ tsp hot paprika or cayenne pepper
1 ½ pounds of chicken wings (about 10)
1 ½ tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1 scallion (green onion) finely sliced into rounds

Directions
1) In a large bowl create the marinade by mixing all the wet ingredients together and then stirring in all the dry spices. 
 
2) Add the chicken wings, toss to coat and refrigerate for at least one hour (and up to about 6 hours).  Every 30 minutes or so stir the wings around in the mixture so they evenly marinade.

3) Preheat an oven to 425 F.  Find a large baking pan (not sheet because the juices and sauce will be runny) and line it with foil.  Lightly oil the aluminum foil to prevent sticking.

4) Pour the wings and sauce into the baking pan and roast, for about 40 minutes at 425 F.  (After about 20 minutes use some tongs or a spatula to turn over all the wings so both sides are evenly cooked.) 

5) During the last five minutes of cooking time toast your sesame seeds in the oven at the same time, stirring after each couple of minutes. (This is a small amount, so toasting them in a ramekin works great.)

6) If you desire a little more crisp to your wings, carefully broil the wings for an additional few minutes being careful not to burn them.

7) Transfer wings to a serving platter and garnish with the toasted sesame seeds and thinly sliced pieces of scallion/green onion.  Enjoy!


Friday, January 27, 2012

Homemade Biscuits


Today is the due date for the Daring Baker’s January 2012 Challenge, which is on biscuits.  I was torn about doing this challenge because I’ve gone gluten free for the month of January…and it’s not quite February yet.  So I compromised.  I would make one batch, and only one batch (regardless of how it turned out) – and I would eat only one biscuit so I could offer feedback!

Audax Artifex was our January 2012 Daring Bakers’ host.. Aud worked tirelessly to master light and fluffy scones (a/k/a biscuits) to help us create delicious and perfect batches in our own kitchens!


Thankfully Audax had really done his homework and offered crazy amounts of tips and photos.  My solo batch of biscuits turned out moist, tall, and delicious.  They had a light interior somewhat between a cross of bread and cake.  Perfect!  Except that I was aiming for the laminated layers of flaky dough that one can find in a Southern biscuit.  Something tells me (Audax’s notes actually) that I probably over-kneaded.  To try again, more gently, next month!

This recipe pulls together in minutes.  I think after the oven was preheated and the ingredients were measured out that it took only 3-4 minutes until the biscuits were cut out and sliding into the oven.  That’s pretty much instant gratification in the world of baking and breads.  No resting time, proofing, punching down of dough, etc.  Just nice, warm, fluffy biscuits – in all their gluten glory.


Please give making these biscuits from scratch a try.  It’s practically as easy as opening one of the cardboard spring-loaded refrigerated canisters from the grocery store, and it’s way cheaper.  For the complete recipe, variations and tutorial please visit Audax’s website here.



Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Easy Zucchini Soup


I have still been focusing on fruit and vegetable rich meals this month – and feeling great about it!  One of the easiest healthy meals to make is a pureed vegetable soup with vegetable stock and no dairy.  Quick, simple, and versatile – the resulting soup is thick, satisfying, and low calorie.  The top contender for our household’s favorite soup is currently Zucchini soup, using organic produce of course.  The texture is so thick and velvety you’d swear there was a potato in there somewhere.  This bright green soup tastes as fresh as it looks!


Zucchini Soup
Makes 4 cups, serves 4 as an appetizer or two as entrée

Ingredients
One onion, diced
3 medium organic zucchini, cut into rounds and then halved
1 tbsp olive oil
1 bouillon cube (I prefer Rapunzel brand) and 3 cups water or 3 cups stock
Fresh thyme, salt & pepper to taste


Directions
1)   In a deep saucepan over medium heat, add the olive oil and diced onion.  Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onion becomes translucent.
2)   Add the sliced zucchini and stir to combine.  Saute for about 3 minutes.  Sprinkling in a tablespoon or so of thyme leaves and a shake of salt and pepper.
3)   Add 3 cups of water and one Rapunzel bouillon cube to the saucepan (or 3 cups stock).  Stir and bring to a boil.  Then cover and simmer for approximately 12-15 minutes until the zucchini is very soft.  Turn off heat.
4)   Use a stick blender to puree the soup in the saucepan until very smooth.  (Or transfer soup to a blender and puree in the blender until smooth.)
5)   Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more salt and pepper as desired.