Saturday, March 31, 2012

I love it when a plan comes together

I was off on Wednesday this week, since I had to work today.  I was up early to get everyone out the door and also because I had an appointment scheduled for 9:00am in downtown Austin.  I had a bit of time before I had to head out, so I read some blogs and chatted with friends on Twitter.  I was trying not to think about the fact that I was kind of hungry--my appointment was for a health screening, which meant fasting for blood work.  Let's just say that reading food blogs probably wasn't helping. =) 

One of my favorite blogs to read is the one from the bakers at King Arthur Flour.  There's lots of yummy stuff on there, and it's so nice to have step-by-step instructions with photos to accompany so many of their great recipes.  It's not unusual for me to read one of their posts and want to drop everything and head for the kitchen.  That was definitely the case when I saw the post for Italian Easter Cheese Bread.  My friend Kayte was on Twitter at the time; she's been in a bread-baking mood and was quite happy to jump in and make it with me.  Margaret decided to joined us as well.  I went to my appointment, ran a couple errands, and was home before noon so I could get started.  Kayte had to start a little earlier, and Margaret got a bit ahead of me as well, but we still got to compare notes as we went along.  

One of my errands was a stop at Crate & Barrel.  I only went in for the chopsticks...

The dough for the cheese bread is basically a lean brioche--it calls for several eggs plus a yolk and half a stick of butter.  It doesn't have any sugar, though; instead it calls for freshly ground pepper (I used black since I don't care for white) to reinforce the savory nature of the bread.  Since the dough is pretty soft, I used my mixer for all the kneading.  Once the dough starts to come together, you mix in a bunch of grated cheese.  I went with Parmigiano Reggiano, but you could also use Romano or Asiago.  I love the fact that KAF gives options for volume as well as weight (in either ounces or grams) for their recipes.  But I realized I was in trouble when I discovered that the 1 1/4 cups of grated cheese translated to 170 grams (6 ounces)!  I didn't have that much cheese, so I ended up just going with the 95 grams that I had and hoped that it would still work out.

I frequently make breads that are baked on my baking stone as freestanding loaves.  To be honest, I don't really like traditional "sandwich bread" for sandwiches, though it is nice for toast.  The cheese bread called for a pan, though, and gave a couple of options.  It can be baked as a round, in a brioche or pandoro pan, or you can make a pretty loaf by braiding the dough and then putting it in a loaf pan.  I actually don't use my 9"x5" pan very often, so this was a good chance to get it out of the cupboard.  In the pan, my loaf took 30 minutes to bake, at which point the internal temperature was about 195ºF.  

The verdict? Even without the full amount of cheese, this is some really tasty bread.  I especially like it toasted with butter.  I haven't had a chance to try yet, but I was thinking that it would make really good croutons.  I used it for B's lunch one day and she said she liked it.  I definitely plan to make this bread again, maybe with a different cheese next time.  

You can find the recipe here on the King Arthur website.  Kayte and Margaret have posted their loaves as well.  I'm so glad that we were able to bake together this week!  I'm also sending this over to YeastSpotting, where you check out lots of other great breads.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Quiet time

I love early mornings, when I'm up and the girls are still asleep.  When it's blissfully quiet, so I can hear myself think.  Some of my Twitter friends are up early, too.  Okay, a lot of them are an hour ahead of me, so it's not quite as early for them. =)  This morning, I had a chance to chat with Rebecca for a few minutes.  It was actually in a different moment of peace and quiet, after everyone else was out the door but before I had to finish getting ready for work.  We exchanged a few tweets about Robert Frost, and before I knew it, I had a bunch of his poems downloaded onto my iPad.  I love technology, and how it can put me in touch with friends and poetry at any hour of the day.  As I was paging through some of the poems, one in particular caught my eye.  It seemed perfect to go with a cup of tea and a bit of toasted soda bread and a chat with a friend.

"When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don't stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven't hoed,
And shout from where I am, What is it?
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit."

A Time to Talk, Robert Frost

Unfortunately, time to myself--including time to bake--has been in short supply recently.  That's why I'm posting this recipe almost a week late.  Irish Soda Bread was the featured Tuesdays with Dorie recipe for March 20th.  I think lots of people actually made it for St. Patrick's Day, but that just didn't happen here.  Since I didn't get to it in time, I had the benefit of my friend Nancy's tips (in her post, here).  I did half the recipe, substituted some white whole wheat flour for part of the all-purpose flour, and baked it in a small loaf pan.

The verdict?  To make up for my tardiness, I had my soda bread with some Irish butter and Irish Breakfast tea, and really enjoyed it.  I'm glad I used some whole wheat flour; I like the added flavor.

This recipe was hosted by Carla of Chocolate Moosey and Cathleen of My Culinary Mission.  You can find the original recipe and their variations in their blog posts.  To see what everyone else thought of this recipe, check out the Links.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Tooth Fairies and sweet teeth

It's been a busy week for the Tooth Fairy at our house.  Between them, my children managed to lose three teeth in the span of four days.  Brianna lost one last Wednesday (I had to help that one along a tiny bit).  Then on Friday when I picked Gillian up from daycare, she proudly showed me the tooth that came out at naptime (she managed that on her own).  But the most dramatic was on Saturday night, when B bit down on the piece of chocolate that she was eating for dessert and another tooth came out with it.  Much more of this, and the Tooth Fairy is going to start demanding overtime pay!

Maybe I can bribe her with some danish instead.  I know how powerless I am at resisting the buttery, flaky goodness that comes with laminated dough.  I've made danish and croissants the traditional way, wrapping dough around butter, and doing lots of folds and turns.  There's no question that the end result is fantastic.  But I'm not always in the mood for something that finicky.  That's why I was glad to see a recipe for Rough Danish Dough in Dan Lepard's column in the Guardian last weekend.  First you make a quick sponge with water, instant yeast and bread flour, and let that sit for about an hour to get bubbly.  The final dough calls for 00 flour but I didn't have any, so I used all-purpose flour instead.  Being danish dough, there's a little sugar and a couple egg yolks added to the dough as well.  Instead of forming the butter into a big block, you leave it in large cubes and mix it into the dough.    

As you roll the dough out, the butter is flattened out into thin sheets.  As you fold the dough (like a letter, in thirds) and roll it out again, layers are formed.  The dough goes into the fridge for half an hour between the turns so that the dough can rest (which makes it easier to roll out again) and the butter can firm up a bit (so it doesn't get squished out all over the place).  For some tips and great step-by-step photos of folds and turns (for traditional croissants), check out my friend Tracey's blog.  She and I actually made the danish dough together via Twitter.  One tip that I found helps with the rough version is to keep extra flour handy.  If the dough is sticky and the butter is trying to break through, coat that spot with some flour and keep going.  I also kept my bench scraper nearby to pick up the dough and make sure there was enough flour underneath as well.  The first turn is kind of a mess, but don't be discouraged.  The second will be better, and by the third, the dough will look a lot like traditional laminated dough.

The recipe says you can shape the dough right after the chilling after the third turn, but I left my dough in the fridge overnight.  You don't want to leave it for much longer than that; the yeast in danish dough keeps fermenting and it gets pretty puffy.  When I was ready to use the dough, I divided it in half.  One half I wrapped really well (plastic wrap and then a freezer bag) and put it in the freezer.  The rest I made into rolls filled with chocolate.  I ended up making half a dozen, and dressed them up with a drizzle of chocolate glaze after baking.

The verdict?  So, so delicious.  Brianna and Gillian loved the chocolate-filled danish.  The glaze was a bit over the top for me, but still really good.  I eventually ended up making a raspberry-filled danish braid with the other half of the dough, and it was amazing.  I'll definitely be making this recipe again.  I even bought some 00 flour when I was at Central Market this weekend so I can try the recipe with that.  

If you'd like to try your hand at danish dough, you can find the recipe here in the Guardian.  You can also find lots of other great recipes from Dan Lepard in their How to Bake series.  Also, check out Yeastspotting for lots of other amazing yeasted treats!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Citrus Sunday - Triple Citrus Bars

I've mentioned before that I love cooking magazines.  It was such a revelation the first time I ever read one (thanks to my wonderful husband who thought it would give me something to do while I was wiped out by the flu 13 years ago).  There are so many enticing new recipes in every issue!  Lots are seasonally appropriate, so sometimes I'm inspired to drop what I'm doing and make a new recipe right away.  That happened with the July/August 2006 issue of Cook's Illustrated.  Amazing that I remember that almost 6 years ago, isn't it?  The recipe that grabbed my attention was for Key Lime Bars.  I immediately made a double batch to take to a 4th of July potluck.  They were a huge hit and several people asked for the recipe.  I made the bars several times shortly after that, but as often happens, I got sidetracked by new recipes after that and have only made them maybe once or twice since then.

When I was trying to come up with a good citrus recipe for my blog event, I considered several ideas.  I even made an orange & vanilla bundt cake that turned out pretty good, but just wasn't quite what I was looking for.  I'm always short on time and frequently indecisive as well, so it really isn't surprising that I was sitting here yesterday (yay for a Saturday off!) still trying to decide what to make.  I turned to Eat Your Books to see what I could find on my bookshelves.  I bought some limes when we were shopping Friday night (to add to the lemons, tangerines & tangelos already in the fridge), so I started off searching that.  Nothing jumped out and grabbed me, so I thought to try searching for "citrus" instead.  Bingo!

Triple Citrus Bars came up a couple times in the list--they're a variation on the Key Lime Bars, and can be found in the magazine (online) as well as in the new Cook's Illustrated Cookbook.  Instead of just lime juice and zest (you can use either key limes or regular Persian limes), you use lemon and orange juice and zest as well.  The zests are used in equal amounts (1 1/2 teaspoons of each), but most of the juice is lime, with just a tablespoon each of lemon and orange.  I actually used tangelo zest and juice instead of orange, since that's what I had.

Rather than graham crackers, the crust is made with animal crackers.  They are pulsed in the food processor along with some brown sugar and a bit of salt and then melted butter is added to bind everything together.  This recipe gave me a change to use a new baking pan that I bought myself for my birthday--a Fat Daddio's 8" square baking pan.  (I love my Pyrex baking pans, but they don't work well for everything.)  The crust is baked for 18-20 minutes, which allows enough time to mix up the filling.  The filling consists of cream cheese, the zests, a bit of salt, sweetened condensed milk, an egg yolk, and the citrus juices.  Once the crust is baked and cooled for a few minutes, the filling is added and the bars are baked for another 15-20 minutes.  The bars are allowed to cool to room temperature, then are refrigerated for at least a couple hours.

The verdict?  These aren't quite as tart as the straight lime ones, but I like the flavor that the mix of fruits brings to the bars.  As the test kitchen cooks determined, the addition of the cream cheese and egg yolk helps firm up the filling so that it can be cut into neat bars.  I'm definitely not going to let so much time pass before I make these bars again.

If you'd like to try the recipe, you can find it here on the Cook's Illustrated website, or in the Cook's Illustrated Cookbook.  And be sure to check out all the other yummy citrus recipes that my blogging friends have made!  If you'd like to join us in the future, leave a comment or email me at diskitchennotebook at gmail dot com, and I'll add you to my email list.

Citrus Sunday

It's Citrus Sunday!  Meaning that it's time for our next seasonal blog event.  Last summer, I decided that we had so much fun with our Cookie Exchange that I'd like to host blog events more than once a year.  I know that my blogging friends are busy, though, so I didn't want it to be too often.  Seasonally--roughly four times a year plus the holiday cookies--seemed just about right.  For summer, we had ice cream and other frozen treats, then for fall we had loaves of all kinds.  (And of course we had another cookie exchange.)  That brings us to winter.  Now I know that we're just a handful of days away from spring, so I wanted a theme that would be a good transition from one season to the other.  Citrus fruits seemed like the perfect way to do it, since they're in season in winter, but make everyone think of spring.  There are so many great variations to choose from--I can't wait to see what everyone has come up with!

I decided to try something new this time.  My friend Nancy had the great suggestion to add a linky to this main blog event post.  That way everyone can leave their links so we can all check them out (especially since my life is crazy as always and I don't know how soon I'll find time to do a round-up).  I know that not everyone will have his or her blog post done today, so I'm allowing submissions for the next two weeks.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012