Okinawan Sweet Potato Pie

Looking for something different for the Thanksgiving table? You'll certainly raise a few eyebrows and pique everyone's interest with this deep purple dessert that will taste familiar….but not: Okinawan sweet potato pie.

It was only last year that I made my first every sweet potato pie, but already I couldn't resist shaking things up a little. Usually we enjoy these vibrant sweeties mashed with butter, salt and a touch of bourbon or even sake, and served on the side with everything from salmon to meatloaf. We've even used them in a potato salad. So a pie couldn't be far behind, right?

Okinawan sweet potatoes can be found in Asian grocery stores, especially those catering to Japanese and Korean communities. Here in the Mid-Atlantic region, the large supermarket chains H-Mart and Lotte are the most reliable sources for this unusual sweet potato variety. In Hawaii, they were readily available at most supermarkets, but since the population on the Islands is largely Asian, that makes sense. Elsewhere in the U.S., I know Uwajimaya in the Pacific Northwest and the Japanese supermarkets in California will carry them too.

Recently I was surprised to see white-skinned sweet potatoes at a nearby Giant supermarket (a regional chain), and for a moment thought that the Okinawan had gone mainstream. Unfortunately,a scratch test on one end of the potato showed that it was white on the inside. So unless you live in Hawaii, you may have to make a special trip to an Asian grocer if you want to try this for Thanksgiving.

Why use the Okinawan sweet potato other than for its stunning color? Well, it does have a more robust texture and a deeper, less sweet flavor than their orange cousins. The texture of the sweet potato pie I made last year was similar to pumpklin — silky, smooth and with a light mouthfeel. Perhaps because it is less sweet, the Okinawan is more potato-like when mashed or whipped — and in this pie, each mouthful feels quite substantial yet is creamy and surprisingly light on the stomach. This recipe is based on how I prepare Okinawans as a mashed side dish — with butter, dairy, salt and bourbon or rum; the eggs, sweetener, spices and additional dairy really make it pie-worthy.

But let's not kid ourselves, the best reason to use this sweet potato is for its knock-out color — definitely a stand-out from all the other root vegetables that normally grace the Thanksgiving feast! (Yeah, I said "root vegetables".)

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

Serves 8

2.5-3lb (800-900g) Okinawan sweet potatoes, scrubbed well

Roast sweet potatoes in a pre-heated 350F/180C oven for 45-60 minutes, or until potatoes are soft when pierced with a fork. If potatoes are of different sizes, remove smaller potatoes as each softens.

Cool until easy to handle. Cut potato in half crosswise and scoop out flesh with a small spoon — you should have 3.5-4 cups (about 850g). You can do this step 2-3 days in advance — throw the potatoes in a pan when you are baking or roasting something else, and keep the scooped-out flesh refrigerated until ready to bake the pie.

To finish the pie:

2 eggs, beaten well
3 TBL unsalted butter, melted
1 cup half and half
¼ cup rum
¾ cup raw sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground allspice
½ tsp ground coriander
1 tsp sea salt
1 prepared pie crust (use your favorite)

Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C. Set rack in the middle of the oven.

Line a 9" pie plate with the prepared crust.

Combine everything from eggs to sea salt and blend well, about 2 minutes on the medium setting on your mixer. There may be some small pieces of potato in the mixture — we like the added texture, but if you prefer a smoother custard, you may need to blend for a bit longer.

Pour purple custard into prepared crust, and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely on wire rack.

I have to admit that I never save room for dessert.
For me, the best time to eat sweets like this
is with that second cup of coffee in the morning.
But whatever time of day you indulge,
don't forget the ice cream!

More traditional desserts for Thanksgiving?
How about a Pumpkin Cheesecake or
Bourbon-Kissed Sweet Potato Pie?

A traditional but less common dessert:
Mock Indian Pudding.


A Neighbor's Bounty: Rainbow Trout Amandine

A couple of weeks ago, our next door neighbor came by after a long afternoon practicing fly-fishing on a nearby pond. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources stocks several ponds in our area with rainbow, golden and brown trout in the spring and fall, and Wayne and his more experienced buddy had caught quite a few beauties. Not bad for a novice fly-fisher, no? Problem for them was that neither of their families really cared for freshwater fish, so he offered us four rainbow trout from their bounty. How lucky are we?! (When we lived on Oahu, we had a similar experience when our next door neighbors gifted us with a 2lb slab of ahi tuna they had just caught that also yielded multiple wonderful meals.)

I immediately abandoned what I was doing to clean the fish, and prep two for freezing. Actually, I tried to give one of the cleaned trout to another neighbor while it was still fresh but they weren't home that afternoon — so into the freezer they went.

One of the trout had an additional surprise: a roe sack! Not quite sure what to do with it, but knowing it was a valuable find, I removed the sack as intact as possible and left it in a sea salt brine while the preparations continued. (More on that another time.)

For this recipe I used the two smallest trout of the bunch, but they were still about a pound each. I had not had the opportunity to prepare fresh whole fish like this since we left Hawaii, so I was actually glad to have the practice even though it meant dealing with fish guts. (smile) It took almost an hour to clean and scale all four trout, so yes, I was definitely out of practice. But in the end, that marriage of sweet fish and buttery, crunchy almond sauce made it so worthwhile.

Thank you, Wayne, for this unexpected, delightful surprise!

Serves 2 persons

2 rainbow trout, about 1 lb (455g) each, cleaned and scaled
1 lemon, scrubbed well
sea salt
ground black pepper
3-4 TBL flour, for dusting fish
4-5 TBL safflower or olive oil (safflower is preferred because it has a higher smoking point)

Pre-heat a large skillet (big enough to hold both of your fish) over medium high heat.

Slice lemon in half lengthwise, then crosswise into ¼ inch slices (you're making little half-moons).

Pat fish dry with a paper towel, both inside and out. Season with sea salt and ground black pepper, both inside and out. Lay 3-4 half-slices of lemon inside each fish.

Sprinkle outside of fish with flour. Add oil to heated pan, then carefully lay each trout in the hot oil. If you have a splatter screen, you'll want to use it now; if you don't have a splatter screen (like me) use the skillet cover to reduce some of the splatter, but leave it ajar. (Yes, my stove area was a bit of a mess doing this dish!)

Cook for about 5-7 minutes, then carefully turn each fish over. Cook for additional 6-8 minutes, or until the interior of the fish flakes when probed with a fork.

Remove fish to large platter and cover to keep warm while finishing the almond butter sauce.

To finish Sauce:
½ cup (58g) sliced or slivered almonds
3 TBL unsalted butter
sea salt
juice from half a lemon (about 2 TBL)
flat-leaf parsley, minced

Drain oil from skillet, if necessary, and return pan to medium heat. Add almonds, and stir until they begin to release a toasty aroma, about 1-2 minutes. Add butter, salt and lemon juice and cook for another minute. Remove from heat and stir in parsley.

Pour butter and almonds over fish. Garnish with additional lemon slices and parsley, if desired.

Since this was an unplanned meal, we supplemented what was already available that day — pickled radishes, and the last of the nasturtium leaves and blossoms from the garden to balance the rich butter dressing; basmati rice and steamed brussels sprouts round out the meal.

We still have 2 larger trout in the freezer, and we already know how we want to prepare one of those: Sumac Trout! Stay tuned.

We do love fish! Some of the other recipes you'll find around here:
Pan-Roasted Haddock with Mustard Cream Sauce
Cod with Mango-Sake Sauce
Steamed Fish with Ginger and Scallions
Kasu-marinated Butterfish
Baked Monchong with Hummous Crust
Mahimahi Patties with Lemongrass and Lime Leaf
Pan-Fried Opakapaka with Warm Spice Cabbage
Nori-Wrapped Walu & Shrimp with Papaya Coulis
Grilled Ehu in Banana Leaf
Kajiki with Pomegranate Ogo
Wahoo Fish Pie
Fish Tacos
Roasted Kabocha Salmon Patties


(Mock) Indian Pudding

Today is National Indian Pudding Day! (Who knew?)

Don't be fooled by the photo of blobs of brown gooeyness — this is a heavenly dish. The scent of molasses and baking corn accented with faint whiffs of cinnamon will drive you wild as it bakes (or bubbles in a slow-cooker). With a name like "Indian Pudding," this corn and molasses laden pudding is sure to evoke images of the first Thanksgiving, Pilgrims and Native Americans. None of this would be accurate. What's more likely is that "indian" (not capitalized) was used as a colonial term for corn in many recipes dating back to the 18th century, so indian pudding = corn pudding! For an interesting historical review of how this pudding has evolved and how it got its name, What's Cooking America is the place to start.

But what I call indian pudding is probably not what most people consider indian pudding. The recipe I know and love has pearl tapioca, an addition that some in the blogosphere apparently consider blasphemous. My condolences to them. My first taste of this filling pudding came 11 Thanksgivings ago. It was love at first bite: a rich and creamy cornmeal custard redolent of molasses and punctuated by chewy pearls of tapioca — what's not to love?! I have to admit, though, that as much as I am inclined to love molasses and cornmeal in any form, it was the jewels of chewy tapioca that really stole my heart.

I begged the recipe from T's mother, who likewise had received it from her mother-in-law (Grandma B) — a native Mainer born and bred. I only learned that indian pudding usually does not include tapioca when I misplaced my copy from T's mom a couple of years ago and did a web search for indian pudding recipes. I was puzzled to find that none of the recipes in the first 15 pages of search results had tapioca as an ingredient. I tried a new search with "tapioca" added to the search query — this time I ended up with mostly South Asian recipes with tapioca, coconut milk and saffron. Then last year T's parents gave me Grandma B's recipe collection, and there I found a recipe card with Grandma's delicate and careful writing titled "Mock Indian Pudding." I can only guess that the tapioca is what relegates it to a mock version. But since this version is still the only one I've ever tried and is the one I first fell in love with, it will always be the real deal to me.

Don't wait for Thanksgiving to try this luscious pudding. With all the milk, cornmeal, egg and tapioca, it's quite the perfect breakfast food any time of the year. And though indian pudding is usually served with whipped cream or ice cream, it is equally indulgent with just a swirl of plain heavy cream or half-and-half for added richness without more sweetening. With a cup of hot coffee, this is a bowl that will warm the cockles of your heart on the coldest morning.

Let this be the day you discover for yourself how the humblest of ingredients can be elevated to such sublime heights.
Happy National Indian Pudding Day!

Adapted from a recipe of Mrs. Helen Buzzell of Brunswick, Maine
Serves 8-10 persons

Grandma B's original recipe was baked, but T's mom adapted it for the slow-cooker. We always use the slow-cooker method. If you're making this for Thanksgiving, the slow-cooker has the added advantage of freeing up precious oven space. Both methods are included here.

4 cups (946ml) milk (recommend whole milk, but anything down to 1% would be OK; non-fat will produce a watery rather than creamy pudding)
3 TBL (32g) coarse-ground cornmeal
cup (158ml) dark molasses (preferably blacktstrap molasses)
⅔ - ¾ cup (128g-144g) raw sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp sea salt
butter, to grease the baking dish

½ cup (88g) pearl tapioca (available in Asian grocery stores, and in natural food shops)
1 cup (236ml) milk

Pre-heat oven to 300F/150C
In a medium saucepan, scald milk over medium high heat. Grease 6qt or larger baking dish with butter. Combine scalded milk, cornmeal, molasses, sugar, eggs, cinnamon and salt, and pour into prepared baking dish. Bake 1 hour.

(Slow-cooker Method: After scalding milk, add milk, cornmeal, molasses, sugar, eggs, cinnamon and salt to a 5-6qt/L slow-cooker. Set on HIGH for 1 hour.)

Soak pearl tapioca (at right in photo, regular tapioca on left) in cold milk while pudding is baking.

After pudding has baked for 1 hour, add soaked tapioca and milk, stir well to distribute. Turn oven down to 250F/122C and continue baking until tapioca are transparent, another 1½ hours to 2 hours.

(Slow-cooker Method: Add soaked tapioca and milk, stir well, and turn cooker down to LOW for 3-4 hours, or until tapioca are transparent.)

Serve warm or at room temperature, with whipped cream, ice cream or a drizzle of plain heavy cream.

Looking for alternative desserts for Thanksgiving? How about a Pumpkin Cheesecake?

Like molasses? Gram's Molasses Crinkles and Anadama Bread will tickle your molasses sweet tooth.

If you love corn as much as I do, you'll find cornmeal in this Greek cornmeal and greens casserole called Plasto (slow-cooker version), and sweet kernel corn goes into two wonderful soups: Chilled Buttermilk Corn Chowder and Ewa Sweet Corn Soup with Kauai Shrimp; as well as Okra & Corn Stew with Jerk Salmon.


One for the Cold: White & Green Beans Soup

Lucky for us, when the power went out yesterday this über-hearty two bean soup was already keeping warm in the oven. It was meant to be for dinner, but since it was already hot we had our first bowl for lunch before we sat down to our card game. Thick with potatoes, starchy great northern white beans, fresh green beans, sweet parsnips and carrots, as well as thick chunks of ham hocks, this is a meal-in-a-bowl guaranteed to chase winter (or autumn!) chill from the inside out.

Not sure when it finally stopped snowing last night — it was still snowing when I went to bed at 8:30. This morning the sky is clear as a bell and bright blue, though it's still below freezing. Surprisingly, there is little snow accumulation considering it snowed over 12 hours yesterday. All there is now is an icy mess. So, still no raking or leaf-bagging today… darn…. See how many leaves are still on the trees? There's at least another month-of-weekends worth of raking and bagging in those trees. Oh, well, it'll all have to wait for another day.

This soup is based on a recipe I first tried about a dozen years ago when we lived in Germany. Both the ingredients and method have evolved over time, but one thing that remains intact is the defining contrast of the 2 different beans and the incomparable flavor of marjoram. Marjoram (Origanum majorana) is not an herb that is widely used here in the U.S. so it is something that I still associate with German cuisine. Though a close relative of oregano, marjoram has a sharper, almost pine resin, flavor that makes it quite distinctive. If you must substitute, go ahead and use oregano — your soup will taste good, but will lack the character that belies its European heritage.

For most of the last 3 years we lived in Germany, we used to have mutual language-improvement meetings with a German friend every week. In addition to helping each other with our pronunciations in the other's language, we were also free to share cultural highlights and dispel myths. One evening, I served this soup to our friend. He was surprised by how much it tasted like a soup his mother used to make, and declared it quite authentic. He used the Pfälzisch (local dialect from the Palatinate region) name for the soup, Brockelbohnensuppe. And that's still how I think of it when I make this soup.

Guten Appetit!

Inspired by a recipe from The New German Cookbook, by Jean Anderson and Hedy Würz
Serves 8-10 persons

1 lb (450g) great northern beans
2.5 qt/L cold water

Rinse and pick through beans. Soak in cold water overnight.

(If you need the beans in a hurry, place them in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water, set pan over medium high heat and bring to boil. As soon as the water reaches a boil, remove from heat, cover and set aside for one hour to rehydrate.)

For the broth:
1 large fistful of flat-leaf parsley
2 smoked ham hocks or 1 large smoked shank
4 qts/L water
2 bay leaves
1 onion, cut in half
3 stalks celery
2 carrots, scrubbed well

Pick off leaves from parsley stems, and reserve for soup. Put parsley stems and all other ingredients in a 6 qt/L slow-cooker. Set on HIGH and leave for at least 6 hours (I usually leave it overnight while the beans are soaking, and finish the soup in the morning).

Continue Soup:
¼ lb salt pork, cut into ½-inch pieces
3-4 medium, or 2 large leeks (about 1lb/450g), sliced and rinsed well
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 parsnips, peeled and diced
1 lb (450g) green beans, snipped and cut into 1" pieces
½ lb (225g) red potatoes, scrubbed and diced
1 tsp dried thyme, or 4-5 sprigs fresh
1 TBL dried marjoram
2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. fresh-ground black pepper

Remove ham hocks/shank from broth, strain broth, and return broth to slow-cooker. Separate meat from bones and return meat to broth.

Drain beans, and add to broth. Add remaining ingredients, and set slow-cooker to LOW for 6-8 hours, or HIGH for about 3-4 hours, or until beans soften and are creamy when pressed with a fork. Alternatively, you can do this part on the stove: place all ingredients in a large Dutch oven (8qt/L or more) or stock pot and bring to boil over high heat, then lower heat to simmer and cover for 2 hours. Meanwhile, prepare the roux.

To Finish:
4 TBL unsalted butter
4 TBL flour
parsley leaves reserved from making the broth, above

Met butter in heavy-bottomed pan, preferably cast iron, over medium heat. Add flour, and stir well to absorb butter. Turn heat down to low and cook gently, stirring often, until the roux is the color of peanut butter. This will take about 1 hour if the heat is low enough. Keep aside until needed.

When the beans test ready, remove fresh thyme stems (if using), then add roux to soup. To get every bit of the roux, you can use hot soup broth to clean the roux pan. Roughly chop parsley leaves and add to soup. Stir well to combine, and cook together 5-8 minutes to thicken soup. Taste and correct for seasoning.

Serve immediately, alone or with your favorite bread for the perfect cool weather warm-up. I think a nice hard cider is best with this — Strongbow from the U.K. if we can find it, but Hornsby's Amber is more readily available. Of course, you can't go wrong with your favorite local brew either!


Snow in October? In Maryland?

Snow in MD 2011
Six inches and counting…. Hard to believe Halloween is still 2 days away!

About another 2 inches fell after this photo was taken — the power was out when the photo was shot. Fortunately it was only out for 4 hours or so. (Thank you, Potomac Edison!)

We had planned to be raking and bagging another couple of dozen bags of leaves again today, but well… we were "forced" to play a round of Catan by the fire instead.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, right?
White & Green Beans Soup


Pan Roasted Haddock with Mustard Cream Sauce

Pan roasted haddock with cauliflower and potatoes

When the air begins to turn crisp and one of your to-do items is "order firewood", it's a natural to think of warming up with a slow-simmering stew, or to bring out the cache of soup recipes. As we watched the second fall season engulf our small house, I was in search of recipes to entice us to finish raking and bagging each week's leaf fall on our Saturday afternoons. (Our record so far: 26 full lawn-waste bags las Saturday!)

One weekend there was a catch. T. wanted fish (no pun intended). Hmmmmmm. I was tempted to do a fish pie, but decided to keep that for when T's parents visit next month. It occurred to me that the original post on that recipe was dedicated to them, but that I had never actually made it for them before! (How did that happen?) So, what else could I do with the haddock filets we had in the freezer?

For inspiration, I turned to a book that has never let me down: The New German Cookbook. Not surprisingly, this recipe for Pfannenfisch (pan-roasted fish) comes from the coastal city-state of Hamburg by the North Sea. Though the original recipe calls for flounder or turbot, I've substituted wild-caught haddock which is readily available here in the mid-Atlantic. Just before serving, I also added pre-roasted cauliflower florets to turn this into a complete one-dish meal. The sliced potatoes absorbed the savory pan juices from the fish and aromatics, while the sweet flavors of the haddock and the roasted vegetables complimented each other against the bite of the creamy mustard sauce — a hearty yet elegant autumn meal to transition with the seasons. It was nice to be able to garnish this with two of the hardier hangers-on in the herb garden, the chives and nasturtium blossoms, and to use our favorite summer quaff — a Trebbiano-Pinot Gris blend from Trader Joe's called Vola — to blend the seasons as well.

We will see this dish on our table again during the coming cooler and cold months. Brrrrrrrrrrrr….. Can't wait.

Adapted from The New German Cookbook, by Jean Anderson and Hedy Würz
Serves 4 persons

1 lb (450g) red potatoes
3 TBL unsalted butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 small cauliflower, cut into florets (optional)
sea salt, to taste
white pepper, to taste
1 lb (450g) haddock filets, cut into ½ inch pieces
lemon juice
small bunch of fresh chives, snipped for garnish
nasturtium blossoms (optional)

Scrub potatoes well and peel (optional), then slice crosswise into ½ inch pieces. Steam potatoes over medium steam until just softened enough to pierce with a fork, about 13-15 minutes.

Place large skillet in oven, and pre-heat oven to 400F/200C.

After 10 minutes, remove skillet and add butter, swirling carefully to melt butter and coat pan. Place potato slices on bottom of pan, and lay onions over potatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If using cauliflower, layer florets over onion slices and drizzle over with about 1 TBL olive oil. (If using pre-roasted cauliflower, add when you add fish.) Return skillet to oven and roast for 30-40 minutes, or until onions have softened and vegetables are just browning. Meanwhile, make the Sauce.

For the Sauce:
2 TBL unsalted butter
s small shallots, finely minced
2 TBL flour
1½ cup (355ml) milk
½ cup light or table cream
3 TBL Dijon mustard
2 TBL Riesling, pinot gris or other dry white wine
2 tsp lemon juice
½ tsp sea salt
white pepper, to taste

In a small saucepan, melt butter and saute shallots over medium until translucent and fragrant, about 6-7 minutes. With a whisk, stir in flour, and blend well to make a roux. Cook for about 2 minutes. Combine milk and cream, add 2 tablespoons and stir well into the roux. Add another 2 tablespoons, and again incorporate into the roux. Slowly pour remaining milk into sauce mixture, making sure to whisk well so you don't get any lumps. When all the milk has been added, allow to simmer for about 5 minutes so your sauce is smooth and has begun to thicken. Combine mustard, wine and lemon juice, and add to simmering sauce. Add at least ½ tsp of sea salt to balance the flavor of sauce, them adjust to your taste, along with white pepper.

Remove from heat and put into a serving dish or gravy boat to allow each diner to help themselves. I like to divide sauces like this between 2 or more large creamers that can be placed between every 2 diners so it is easier for everyone to help themselves.

Finish Fish:
Once the veggies in the skillet are ready, remove from oven and lightly toss all veggies. Season fish pieces with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with lemon juice. Add fish to skillet and return again to the oven for 5-6 minutes, or until fish feels firm and lightly flakes with a fork. (I turned off the oven after 5 minutes and let the dish finish with the residual heat for another 5 while toasting bread and setting the table.)

Serve with your favorite bread to catch every bit of the addicting sauce, and the rest of the wine you used in the mustard sauce.


Happy Easter!


Happy Earth Day!

We'll be celebrating Earth Day this year by getting dirty.... we'll be spending the weekend getting plants, seedings and trees into the garden and yard. Yay, Spring!

Mint, Stevia, Oregano and Thai Basil are in, and Sesame are next to go in.
Unfortunately, the Red Shiso seeds did not sprout. Very sad.

Pansies for the front yard and Marigolds for the raised garden.
We're keeping our fingers crossed that the marigolds will dissuade
the awful brown marmorated stinkbugs from chewing up the garden.
They did a real number on tomatoes and other garden plants, as well as fruit trees,
in Maryland and Pennsylvania last year and are predicted to be worse this year.

The asparagus are ready to cut!
Any suggestions for fresh asparagus?!

Two mature black currant bushes were a gift from friends.
They are in full blossom and will soon be joined with red currants.
Farther down the fence line (off camera) there are newly planted blueberry bushes.

Horseradish and rhubarb were residents when we moved in,
and both seem to be returning with vigor!

If you want to get wild as well as dirty, all the National Parks in the U.S. are waiving their entrance fees today in honor of Earth Day, so you can visit your favorite park for free!

In addition, some U.S. retailers are offering give-aways for Earth Day:

LOCAVORE APP from Hevva Corp. helps you locate sources for local produce, including farmers' markets, direct-to-consumer farms, and co-ops. Locavore retails for $2.99 on iTunes but is free today only!

LOWE'S, the home improvement center will be giving away 1,000,000 (one million) trees on Saturday, April 23rd across their retail locations in the U.S. It's on a first come, first served basis, so go early! Click on the screenshot to find a location near you.

Finally, Starbucks and Caribou Coffee are both offering free coffee if you bring in your own re-useable mug to their stores today. If it's as cold and windy where you are as it is here, this could be a welcome treat!

Are you celebrating Earth Day where you are? What's on your agenda?!

Happy Earth Day, Everyone!


Randomness, Kindness & A Cookbook for a Cause

This award came with hugs all the way from Osaka, Japan, from Kat of Our Adventures in Japan.

Thankfully Osaka is well away from devastated Miyagi Prefecture which was hit with the trifecta of earthquake, tsunami and on-going nuclear disaster. But Kat reminds us that especially in times of trouble, it's even more important to be kind to one another and so... an award and a hug. Thanks, Kat!

I'm supposed to share 7 random facts about myself before passing along this award.
Are you sitting down? OK, here we go.

1. My Japanese mother was fascinated with all things Spanish, so my baptismal name is Maria Theresa (hers was Margarita).
2. I once had a pet mouse named Miss Mitzi. Unfortunately she met an untimely death eating a Pringles potato chip.
3. I have always wanted to keep bees. Now that we own a house, I just may get my chance.
4. I firmly believe that I was Italian in a previous life (my husband must have been Filipino at least once).
5. My favorite cheese is a ripened Brie de Meaux.
6. Before we adopted 2 sister cats in 1997, I never envisioned myself living with cats and now I can't imagine how anyone lives without at least one.
7. I've read J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy + The Hobbit 7 times. So far.

Whew, that was weird, but fun. And so I'm sending this hug back to Kat by spreading the word about a cookbook project to which she has contributed a recipe and from which 100% of the proceeds will benefit charities in Japan for the Earthquake & Tsunami disaster relief. Although it is not published yet, the cookbook will be called "Peko-Peko" and features Japanese-inspried recipes from over 50 contributors. You can sign up to learn more about the cookbook, preview some of the creative recipes (there's a "green tea kit kat bar" that looked pretty cool), and sign up to purchase the book when it becomes available (click on the Peko-Peko logo).

And so to pass this award and hugs forward, the women about whom I would like to learn 7 random facts are:
Mikaela @ Baguette Taste, Wonder Bread Budget,
Holly @ Tasty Travels,
Laurie @ Laurie Constantino (formerly Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska, do check out her brand new site)
Gabi @ Crockyblog
(and now that I realize she's blogging again...) GL @Maine Musing (though they're not in Maine right now!)

And a great big hug to everyone reading this! Thanks for stopping by!


Scrapple: It's What's For Breakfast...

Meet my new favorite breakfast treat. Sorry, SPAM... (But you'll always be my first!)

Now, I admit I was slow coming around to Scrapple. I first noticed it in the chilled meat section alongside bacon, ham and sausages, when we first lived on the East Coast 10 years ago. The commercial variety did not look very appetizing in its vacuum-sealed package — kind of gray and stodgy. I took it for an evolutionary relative of SPAM — a colonial-era processed meat product. And since I was already a SPAM aficionado, I figured I did not need another processed meat product in my life. And so for the 2 years we lived near Boston, we never touched the stuff.

After we returned to the East Coast a couple of years ago, we attended a festival in Pennsylvania where the local Lions Club was selling fresh local bacon and sausage. And Scrapple, made right on site. The sight of the large vats of corn mush were enough to draw me in, but the heavenly aroma of spice and pork decided it for me — we had to try the Scrapple.

But what exactly is Scrapple? Well as you can see from the photo on the left, my earlier assumption about scrapple was wrong — it's not a processed meat product at all, but rather a cornmeal mush mixed with heavily seasoned pork broth made with the offal from hog butchering ("everything but the oink"). The culinary ancestor of SPAM actually may be something that's called "Country Pudding" around here — a loaf of seasoned pork bits strained from the offal broth, with little or no starch filler. So Pudding is the loaf-shaped pork bits, and Scrapple the pork-flavored corn mush (think "polenta"). What's not to like?! And one can feel a little better about choosing Scrapple over SPAM (well, I do anyway) since it has half the amount of sodium (369mg vs. 767mg) and half the "calories from fat" (70mg vs. 137mg) than its more famous cousin.

Where did it come from? Apparently Scrapple originated with the German immigrants who settled this area in the late 17th and early 18th centuries and became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch (probably a corruption of the word Deutsch). You can also find scrapple sold as "Pon Haus," a derivation of Panhas, a meat and meal (usually flour and buckwheat, but sometimes rye) terrine or fresh Wurst that is a specialty of the Westphalia and Rhine regions of Germany. You can see from the German Wikipedia link that Panhas doesn't look much like Scrapple!

I pan-fry Scrapple the same way I do SPAM — browned well and crispy on the outside and creamy/juicy on the inside. With warm apple slices and soft scrambled eggs, it's a hearty, lick-your-plate-clean brunch with or without the maple syrup. I recommend "with"...

If you're not at a festival or hog butchering where it is freshly made, your next best bet is to try Scrapple from a local butcher. This one is sold by the slice as Pon Haus from Hoffman's Quality Meats in nearby Hagerstown, MD, but is available at area grocery stores too. This came from Giant Eagle.

Want a bite?


A Plan (and Hope) for Spring

After days of temperatures in the 50s and 60s (Fahrenheit), yesterday's forecast on my Weatherbug app read, "Cloudy with rain showers likely with a chance of snow showers in the morning... Little or no snow accumulation." Wait, what?!... Snow??? Nooooooo...... Hasn't anyone told Mother Nature that Spring officially started last Sunday? OK, we're talking about flurries at worst and only during the morning hours but... *sigh* And more snow in the forecast for the weekend...

Last weekend we began prepping for spring by tackling the yard. A neighbor loaned T. a limber and he pruned the lower limbs on the bigger oak trees in the front yard. There are 9 mature oaks on our small half-acre lot — good for shade and the environment but raking up the leaf fall in November and December was challenging, to say the least! Now it's up to me to clear out the remaining leaves along the fence line and to plan some of the landscaping. Of course, we're going to include as much edible landscaping as possible.

We haven't had a yard in which to plant since we left Germany — and that was in 2005, so we're really excited about having a garden this year. Our new house came with a raised garden bed, and the front of the bed is already planted with asparagus (from the previous owners), so it will be interesting to see what comes up from there this year. We also "inherited" some raspberry canes along the west side of the fence, and we've purchased 2 varieties of blueberries (the Reka, Arandano reka, is pictured left) to plant alongside them. Shortly after we moved in last fall we were gifted with two mature black currant bushes from a friend's garden, and we intend to supplement those with red currants as well. The black currants are already budding (see, they were fooled by the warm weather too)... let's hope there won't be a hard frost any time soon. We've also ordered a sour cherry tree, which should ship sometime in mid-April and we're on the look-out for a Nittany apple tree.

The house came with some terraced planters built in to retaining walls around the patio (east side of the house) and in front of the basement (west side). The west side planters have rhubarb and horseradish planted in, and we hope we'll be able to move both to free up those planters for herbs. In border areas we're planning to grow lots of lemon balm, lemon verbena and lavender. And I recently learned that lemongrass grows well here as an annual, so that will have to figure in somewhere too.

This week we also sowed some seeds. So far we've started rainbow chard (photo, right), spinach, zucchini, Tuscan kale, pumpkin, bell pepper, Italian romano beans (photo, left), blue lake beans, sunflowers, shiso, basil, borage, oregano, dill, flat leaf parsley, and donne (Guam) peppers. We're not sure yet about planting tomatoes this year. After only 3 days, some of the seeds have already already sprouted. Don't you love starting seedlings — there is so much promise in such a tiny package!

One big thing we have to consider in our landscaping plans is mitigating rain runoff. A couple of weeks ago we had a torrential downpour and discovered exactly where rain runs off and pools around the backyard (and, unfortunately, into the crawlspace... yuck). Much of the backyard is on a slope so we have to think about planting hardy ground cover to prevent erosion and trenching to direct the worst of the run-off into a rain garden. It's going to take some work (and $$$) but we're looking forward to doing it ourselves. Fortunately we just happened to find one our favorite ground covers at a local garden show last week — sweet woodruff, which we know better by its German name, Waldmeister (Galium odoratum). As its name implies, Waldmeister is a shade-loving plant found in wooded areas (Wald is German for woods) and is perhaps best known as the key flavoring agent in May wine. We bought a dozen and they should feel right at home beneath all those oaks in the backyard...

Should we or shouldn't we?
The state of Maryland encourages residents to plant native trees and offers $25 coupons towards the purchase of preferred native trees. Since we already have so many oaks (I think they're pin oaks and black oaks, the former are natives), we're planning to use the coupons to get a couple of paw-paws (photo above, courtesy of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture) — the only natives on the approved list that produce an edible fruit (for humans). What is a paw-paw? Not being a native myself, I had to look it up too! According to the all-knowing Wiki, the common paw-paw (Asimina triloba) belong to the same family as soursop and cherimoya, and is the only member of that family that can grow outside the tropical zone. It does look kind of like a papaya (hence the name, which is Spanish for papaya), but is said to have a banana-like flavor and texture. What do you think?

Besides the cold rain (and snow) forecast for much of this week, perhaps the biggest obstacle to spring yard projects will be the competition for T's attention now that he knows that the ponds and lakes around us are stocked with bass and full-grown trout! On Saturday, our next door neighbor stopped by while he was outside pruning to tell him the lakes around the county had been stocked earlier in the week. First thing Sunday morning we were at the nearest pond (1 mile away), he with his fly rod. Since there is a stocked pond so close, he was back Tuesday evening after work, and plans to fish after work regularly.

And you know how friendly fisherfolk can be... T. has since learned where the key fly-fishing spots are within a 20-mile radius, so I may be a fly-fishing widow until May. I don't have a problem with that as long as there is fresh trout to be had. So far, no such luck. So that leaves us warming ourselves by the fire, waiting on our seeds, pampering our starter plants, and designing a rain-friendly landscape.

Help us forget about the weather outside... tell us what you're planting this spring!


Grapefruit 3 Ways: Lamb Khoresh with Potatoes & Grapefruit Peel

Note: This is long overdue. Cleaning out photos and recipes archived but not posted yet...

This was inspired by a wonderful gift we received for Christmas a couple of years ago — a bushel of gorgeous ruby red grapefruit from Pittman & Davis, an orchard in Texas specializing in mail order delivery.

Now we LOVE fresh grapefruit, and devoured these beauties in no time — they were sweet and incredibly fragrant. So much so that it made me sad to simply compost the rinds after the fruit were peeled.

What to do, what to do.... I tried grating some of the rind into sugar for a grapefruit scented sugar — it smelled heavenly, but quickly clumped up as the oils from the rind wet the sugar. So that was not a long term solution to preserving our bounty...

The next step was to try preserving the rinds in sugar. To be honest, I'm not a huge fan of candied citrus peel. It's one of the reasons I don't really enjoy fruitcake — the sticky-sweet candied lemon and orange peel are generally too cloying for my taste. If we were going to candy these rinds, it had to be a drier and less sweet candy peel, one in which the grapefruit flavor came through and in which just enough sugar is used to preserve without taking over.

Basically, the peels were cooked over low heat in a simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water) until the water slowly evaporated and the peels had absorbed the sugar and been left coated in a light glaze. Simply Recipes offers a simple candied citrus tutorial that I found very instructive.

The grapefruit peels were blanched after the white pith was removed, just to give the thick rinds a chance to soften and better absorb the sugar.

After the rinds had cooked in syrup for about 1½ hours , they were dried on a rack placed on a cookie sheet and left in a cold oven. Since these were made in winter, our house was very dry and the rinds dried very quickly — in just over 24 hours.

These were great for nibbling, but I knew they would not last by the time summer came around since the weather around metro DC is notoriously humid starting around late May. As much as I enjoyed nibbling these with tea, I began to consider if I could use them in a savory dish. Then I remembered a stew that was on our to-try list from one of our favorite recipe books, "A Taste of Persia" by Najmieh Batmanglij. This collection is the same one from which we made the Khoresh with Eggplants. One of the reasons we had yet to try the Khoresh with Potatoes and Orange Peel is that it called for candied orange peel, something we never had in the pantry. With a substitution of grapefruit for orange peel, this was our chance to try this stew.

In addition to the candied peel, this khoresh has another citrus ingredient — one that is unique to the cuisine of Persia and the areas around it. It is whole dried lime, also called loomi, black lime, or limu omani. You may find loomi in Middle Eastern groceries, especially if the grocery serves a Persian community, and sometimes in well-stocked Indian groceries as some recipes from the Parsi communities in the north call for dried limes. Loomi are limes dried whole, and their color can range from light to dark brown. As long as the limes do not show any evidence of mold, they are suitable for cooking and in fact the darker colored limes are said to have a better flavor.

Loomi are used as a souring agent, and add a very pleasant puckering-sort of sour — we find it quite addictive. When I open a bag of loomi, I am reminded of the distinctive aroma of Pixie Stix! (For Americans of a certain age, Pixie Stix were a childhood treat — wax straws filled with sour, fruit-flavored sugar dust that were the precursors of Pop Rocks.) To use loomi, I was taught to puncture the skin with a sharp knife and add the limes whole to meat curries. The unique flavor of dried lime cannot be easily substituted with fresh lime juice or even fresh zest. Once dried, the limes seem to continue to age and the flavor grows quite complex as well as intense. They are worth seeking out or ordering online if necessary.

This stew was a truly inspired combination of citrus flavors — the intense lime permeates the meat and legumes, while the candied peel punctuates each bite with a bright sweet note. We really loved this khoresh. I would make the candied grapefruit peel just to be able to have this again.

So this was the third and last use of our Christmas gift of fresh grapefruit — preserved and enjoyed well into spring. It was a lovely present from first to last! Our love and thanks to Dad Rob and Mom Jo for these thoughtful and long-lasting treats!
Adapted from "A Taste of Persia" by Najmieh Batmanglij
Serves 4 persons

4 TBL ghee or unsalted butter
1½ lb (680g) lamb stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large onion, sliced
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp sea salt
1½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
2 cups (474 ml) tomato puree, about 4 fresh tomatoes
2 cups (474ml) water
4 loomi (Persian whole dried limes)
½ cup (80g) dried yellow split peas
1½ tsp advieh**
3 TBL (24g) dried diced candied grapefruit peel
1 TBL raw sugar
i large pinch of saffron threads soaked in 4 TBL warm water
3 TBL fresh lime juice

For Garnish:
2 large russet potatoes (about 1lb)
2-4 TBL olive oil

** Note: Advieh is to Persian cuisine what garam masala is to South Asian cooking, or Chinese five spice to Chinese cuisine: an essential blend of spices varying from kitchen to kitchen, and dish to dish. One key ingredient that seems to distinguish advieh is rose petals, but the other spices vary from cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, coriander, nutmeg, angelica, saffron, sesame, dried limes, or star anise. I bought advieh as a spice blend from a Persian grocery, but here is an interesting thread on with suggestions for making advieh mixtures at home.

In a large skillet or Dutch oven, melt ghee over medium high heat. Working in batches, brown lamb on all sides and remove each batch to a separate bowl to hold.

When all lamb cubes have been browned, add sliced onion and turn heat down to medium. Cook onions until they begin to turn translucent, about 6-7 minutes. Sprinkle with turmeric and stir to coat onions. Cook another 2-3 minutes. Return meat to pan, and add salt and pepper, tomato puree and water, then increase heat to medium high. Pierce each dried lime in several places with the tip of a knife and add to stew. Cover pan and bring to a boil. Once broth comes to a boil, turn heat down to low and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add split peas, advieh, diced candied peel, sugar, saffron water and lime juice. Cover again and simmer for about an hour, or until meat is tender.

Meanwhile, prepare garnish. Wash and peel potatoes. Cut into matchsticks about 3-4 inches long. Pat dry with paper towels to ensure even browning.

In a separate skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Working in batches, brown potatoes in oil, adding more oil as necessary. Remove each batch to paper towels to soak up excess oil. When lamb and peas are cooked through, add fried potatoes over khoresh.

We love khoreshes served with saffron basmati rice and Persian style yogurt salad with minced cucumber and fistsful of fresh herbs.

Mmmm, might be time to make this again....


Spotted Dog: Raisin & Caraway Teabread

This is a recipe I got many moons ago from a friend when we lived in Cambridge (that's Massachusetts, not UK). She called it Irish Soda Bread, so I called it Irish Soda Bread for all these years. Until I started reading about Irish soda bread last year. Evidently real Irish soda bread does not have raisins or currants, and definitely does not have caraway seeds. These additions are more American than Irish. Like fortune cookies are to the Chinese.

At it's most basic, soda bread is flour, butter, milk and leavening, period. The addition of sugar and flavoring agents makes this more of a cake or large scone, and sometimes goes by the colorful moniker, Spotted Dog. Whatever you call it, it's one you will want to have in your recipe files for a fast and tasty treat. One deserving a large gob of butter and a steamy hot beverage. Enjoy!


For a more traditional style soda bread, check out Mikaela's version @ Baguette Taste, Wonder Bread Budget.

Adapted from D's family recipe
Makes one 1 pound loaf

2 cups (200g) all-purpose flour
4 tsp (15g) baking powder (not a typo, that really says 4 teaspoons)
½ tsp sea salt
1 TBL sugar
3 TBL (43g) cold unsalted butter
½ cup (75g) raisins or currants
1 TBL caraway seeds
cup (160 ml) cold milk

Pre-heat oven to 425F/220C, and place rack in the middle. Dust baking sheet with flour.

Combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a medium sized bowl, and whisk together to aerate dry ingredients. Cut cold butter into small dice, then cut into flour mixture with pastry blender or 2 knives until the mixture resembles petite peas. Work quickly so butter remains cold. If butter begins to soften, put bowl in refrigerator to chill butter again.

Add raisins and caraway seeds and toss to distribute through the flour. Dribble half of milk into dough and start to bring dough towards center. Dribble remaining milk around edges of bowl to moisten dry flour mixture clinging to sides of bowl. Bring dough together — handle dough only enough to pat it into a large circle, about 6 inches across and 2-3 inches deep. (Note: the less the dough is handled, the happier and more tender this Dog will be.)

Place dough on prepared baking sheet. Cut a deep cross over the top and down the sides of the dough circle. Prick the dough with a fork or knife in each quarter.

Place baking sheet in oven and reduce temperature to 400f/200C. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown. Test after the first 30 minutes: tap the bottom of the loaf — a hollow thump means you better have your butter ready! Otherwise, bake for another 5 minutes. Do not overbake or you will have a St. Paddy's Day doorstop!

This is best eaten the day it's baked, and best within the first 30 minutes it comes out of the oven — all the better to barely warm your "pat" of butter without quite melting it...

Don't be shy about the butter!
And yes, please do use real butter...


BMB: No-Knead Wild Sourdough Boule

Kate's first true sourdough loaf — no commercial yeast involved...Yay! Kate is the wild sourdough starter I began on New Year's Day when I vowed to bake more breads. She's only 3 months along, but doing well, don't you think?!

This No-Knead Sourdough Boule — still warm from the oven is winging its way to Italy for Bread Baking Day #38, hosted this month from the gorgeous Lake Garda in northern Italy by Cinzia at Cindystar. Cinzia is holding a "No-Knead Festival" and welcomes breads with ingredients of your choosing, as long as they are made using a variation of the no-knead method made famous by Jim Lahey of the old Sullivan Street Bakery. Bread Baking Day is that wonderful monthly collection of homemade breads from around the world, the brainchild of Zorra at 1x Umrühren Bitte. If you'd like more inspiration for baking with sourdough starters, you'll love Champa's Round-up for last month's Bread Baking Day: Breads Made with Sponge/Pre-Ferment.

I was happy to see that Cinzia chose no-knead breads as her theme because I've never actually baked one before. Sure, I followed the craze and drooled over everyone's beautiful breads online over the last 4 years, but no, there was no actual bread. Now that I've finally unpacked my cocotte (Staub's oval Dutch oven) and have a live and happy sourdough starter, this theme was perfect timing!

This recipe was adapted to use the flours I had on hand from one lovingly detailing the making of a no-knead sourdough loaf by Ann Marie at Cheeseslave. But the biggest difference between Ann Marie's and this one is not really in the ingredients but in the timing — I did not have a chance to bake mine for 78 hours after the dough was assembled. That's not a typo — it was over 3 days before I was able to bake. So to be honest, I was expecting this to be more a flattened brick than a nice airy boule.

My initial timing was thrown off when it took much longer to wake up Kate than I thought it would. Maybe because she's a wild one — sourdough, that is. It was 10pm before I could use the activated starter for a dough, so I refrigerated the whole thing to retard the rise, hoping to bake in 28 hours or so. Life intervened in the form of workshops. Twenty-eight hours became forty-eight, then seventy-eight. Well, a retarded ferment is supposed to improve the bread's flavor so I thought I would at least try baking it and maybe get an interesting flatbread. Maybe a useful doorstop.

Believe me when I say no one was more surprised than I, when the cover of the Dutch oven came off and I saw that crusty boule! I did sneak a taste already and this is the first loaf I've gotten from Kate with a very distinct sourdough tang. Not like the San Francisco sourdoughs I love best, but definitely along that vein. Guess there really is something to that long fermentation! The crust is surprisingly thin and crisp, with a little bit of a chew. The interior is bursting with flavor — yeasty with that tangy sourdoughness and good salt balance; and a moist yet airy crumb, with lots of toothsome mouth action.

I still can't believe this worked out after such a long first rise. I can only guess that using the higher gluten bread flour and very gentle handling helped the dough cope with such a long ferment. Next experiment will be to do this again with the prescribed 18-hour ferment in the original recipe. Since this is my first go at the no-knead loaf, I have nothing with which to compare it.

Happy Baking, Everyone!

Adapted from Cheeseslave
1 one-pound loaf

Note: Please read the full recipe before starting. You will need a large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or other 5-6 quart pot with a tight-fitting lid to bake the bread, and a large colander and lint-less cotton or linen towel for the final rise. If you already have an active sourdough starter on hand, you will begin at least 20 hours before you intend to bake, but if you have to grow a starter it will add an extra 24 hours on top of that to your prep time, so plan ahead.

¼ cup (40g) **active sourdough starter (for growing a wild sourdough starter [like Kate], I used this one from Know Whey)
12 oz (355 ml) filtered water, at room temperature
12 oz bread (340g) bread flour (aka strong or Typ 550 flour)
4 oz (112g) whole wheat flour
1 tsp. sea salt
rice flour, for dusting (I used mochiko, a glutinous rice flour)

**Make sure you wake up your starter by feeding it with equal parts of flour and water about 8 hours before you intend to make the dough. (You will find more information about activating a starter here.)

In a glass or other non-reactive bowl or cup, combine water and active sourdough starter and set aside.

In a large glass, ceramic or other non-reactive bowl mixing bowl, whisk together both flours and sea salt. Add starter and stir together with a wood spoon, or other non-reactive stirrer.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for at least 18 hours. If you would like to retard the ferment at this stage, you can place the covered bowl in the refrigerator. As I mentioned above, I unintentionally left the dough to ferment for over 3 days (78 hours) and my loaf still came out well. This may have been possible because of the bread flour (as opposed to regular all-purpose in the original Lahey recipe), but just know that if you exceed 18 hours fermentation, the dough might still be saved!

If the dough is refrigerated, bring it to room temperature for an hour before proceeding.

Place a clean, fragrance-free cotton or linen kitchen towel (do not use terry cloth) in a large colander, and sprinkle the towel generously with rice flour.

When the fermentation period is over, sprinkle all-purpose or bread flour generously on your clean countertop. Very gently, coax your dough out of the bowl and onto the countertop.

Still gently, fold the dough on itself, like folding a piece of paper in half. Do not press or you will lose some of those wonderful large holes in your dough. Rotate the dough mass 90 degrees and fold again. Rotate once more and fold a third time. Resist the urge to press on or knead the bubble-filled dough.

Gently cradle the dough and lift it into the prepared cloth-lined colander with the fold seam sides down. Cover the colander with an oiled plastic cover. (Hint: If you have a cheap, never used shower cap (like the ones you might find in a hotel), it makes a great cover because it is domed and unlikely to touch your rising dough.) Set your timer for one hour.

When timer goes off, place the covered pot on the middle rack of the oven and pre-heat to 500F/260C. Note: It is not necessary to prep the pot in any way; if the pot is properly heated, the crust will set and release cleanly when the bread is done. Set timer again for 30 minutes.

When timer goes off, remove Dutch oven from the oven.

Take lid off of pot. Using the kitchen towel as a sling, gently (always gently!) lift out the dough and turn over the dough so it is now on the bottom of the Dutch oven. The seam from the foldings, which had been on the bottom of the colander, should now be on top of the loaf. Instead of having to slash the loaf, the seams will form a natural place for the loaf to open as it rises in the oven! Pretty cool, no?

Cover Dutch oven with lid, return to oven, and reduce heat to 450F/232C. Set timer for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove lid and reduce heat again to 400F/200C. Bake for another 15 minutes. Test by rapping on the bottom of the loaf — if it sounds hollow, it’s ready!

Cool on wire rack. Admire your gorgeous loaf and marvel at how easy it was to make. Walk away if you feel the temptation to slice it while it’s still warm. Go to another room. Leave the house if you must.

When cooled, slice and savor — your just reward for waiting 24 hours (or more!) for this flavorful, moist and chewy bread. I love nothing more than to dip this in a nice extra virgin olive oil, maybe with a mixture of herbs and spices — try an Arbequina EVOO, a spicy, grassy olive oil available under the California Estate label at Trader Joe's. We also added a za'atar spice blend which included hyssop, sumac and sesame that balance the peppery notes in the oil quite nicely. Delish!


Perspective: Japan, you are not alone

It's all a matter of perspective.

Sometimes when we're troubled — something is going wrong at home or at work; a loved one is in crisis; or events a continent, an ocean, even a world away bring ripples of worry and fear to our mental shores — our focus can narrow and magnify those troubles until we feel small and alone.

Recently I learned a new phrase from my blogging friend, Kat, who lives near Osaka: Kibun tenkan, a Japanese phrase which Kat translates as "change of feeling" and which carries the sense of taking a time out, or making a change of scenery to refresh oneself.

I hope our neighbors in Japan will find a moment to spare for kibun tenkan. And I hope when they do, they will find a new perspective, and see the larger view — that they are not alone, that the world stands with them and is there to support them.

You can look to the website of the Japan Embassy in your country for the best ways to send donations and other aid to Japan. Here in the U.S., you can find ways to help here. In any case,please keep the people of Japan and the courageous responders from 9! countries who are already on site or en route in your prayers, your good thoughts, and your hearts.


Blueberry & Lemon Curd Crepes

Brunch, Anyone?

Recently we were gifted with a trove of blueberries, picked fresh this summer from a local orchard and frozen at the height of their sweetness. At the same time, we found ourselves with a glut of lemons. After recently drooling over other people's citrus curds such as these from Michael at Verses from My Kitchen and Viviane at Chocolate Chili Mango, I decided it was time I tried making lemon curd again. Now that I'm reminded how easy this is, there will be more curd.

So there was a rich and creamy lemon curd in the fridge, and fresh-picked blueberries in the freezer. All we needed was a canvas. Pie? Pancakes? Tart?

As we've been unpacking these last few months, we've been coming across all sorts of goodies we haven't seen in a long while. Some we haven't seen since we left Germany. One of these was a crepe pan. Now you would be forgiven for assuming that this is one of my many, many kitchen tools. In fact, it is one of T's. A dyed-in-wool blue-white-and-red Francophile, he loves crepes. He perfected his technique earlier this year on some savory crepes (his preferred variety) and some sweet ones with homemade "ricotta" and fruit. He agreed to whip up another batch one Sunday morning as an envelope for these treats. He gets consistent and delicious results from a recipe he found on

As you can see, his crepe pan is not the swirl-the-pan variety with which you might be familiar. Rather it is a home version of the ones the crepe-vendors on the street corners of Paris might have — it even came with a special batter-spreading tool and a crepe turner — both made of wood.

Pretty cool, right?

The best part is that on that Sunday morning my only job was to make the coffee and thaw the blueberries, and voila! I turned around and there were Blueberry and Lemon Curd Crepes. There will be more crepe brunches. Crepe dinners, too.

T. uses this one from
Makes 10-12 12" crepes

1 cup (100g) unbleached flour
¼ tsp sea salt
2 eggs
½ cup (120ml) milk
½ cup (120ml) water
2 TBL unsalted butter, melted

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, salt and eggs. Combine milk and water and gradually add to dry ingredients, stirring to mix well. Add butter and beat until smooth.

Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Pour approximately ¼ cup (60ml) batter onto the griddle for each crepe. Working quickly, tilt pan in a circular motion so that the batter evenly coats the pan.

Cook for about 90 seconds, until the batter just sets. Loosen with a spatula, turn and briefly cook the flip side, about 15 seconds. Remove to plate and cover with a clean kitchen towel to keep warm. Repeat with remaining batter. Use wax or parchment paper to separate crepes as they stack.

Fill with sweet or savory fillings as your heart desires!

Adapted from Joy of Baking
Makes 1½ cups

It's worth seeking out organic lemons for this recipe since the zest is used in such copious amounts.

¾ cup raw sugar
3 large eggs
3 large organic lemons
pinch of sea salt
4 TBL (56g) unsalted butter, cut into dice, keep chilled until needed

Wash and pat dry lemons.

Over medium heat, set up a double boiler or stainless steel bowl set over a medium pot filled with an inch of water. Remove top pan from heat, and add eggs and sugar. Using a microplane or fine grater, zest whole lemons directly over eggs and sugar. Repeat for all lemons.

Now cut each lemon in half and juice with a lemon reamer or juicer. Strain to remove seeds and measure ½ cup (120ml) fresh-squeezed juice. Add to eggs and beat well with a whisk to combine. Place top boiler/pan over simmering water and continue whisking until mixture begins to thicken (like a cream sauce or sour cream). Don't leave unattended or you may get some curdling.

Add pieces of cold butter, whisking in each addition well before adding the next. Remove from heat and turn curd out into a jar or bowl for storage or serving. Place a piece of wax paper or plastic film on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Keep refrigerated for up to one week.

Besides filling crepes, use lemon curd to fill tart shells, adorn scones, smear on pancakes, bagels and waffles, or swirl into plain yogurt for a breakfast treat. Either alone or with its favorite companion clotted or whipped cream, lemon curd is one of those great secret weapons that transforms ordinary into memorable with a dollop.


BMB: Raisin Rye Bread

Update: Champa's Round-up for Bread Baking Day #37: Breads with Sponge or Pre-Ferment, is ready. You'll find a wonderful collection including a twist bread, pancakes, several versions of ryes and raisin breads, ciabatta, and so much more to tempt you!


Behold Son of George, the rye sourdough starter — smaller, milder and studded with golden and dark raisins, but no less chewy and perfect for snacking, slathered in butter or not: the Raisin Rye Loaf.

This recipe is an adapted version of master baker George Greenstein's recipe for light rye bread, and assumes you have a sourdough starter on hand already. With only half as much rye flour in the final dough and only one stage of rye development (as opposed to three in Mr. Greenstein's), the loaf is much less tangy and the rye flavor, while distinctive and clear, is more of a background note than the defining flavor.

Since we undertook this resolution last month to bake bread at home, the recipes we've tried have not been enriched (added oil, dairy or eggs) and mostly whole grain — whole wheat, rye or oatmeal. We soon remembered one of the most challenging things about home-baked whole grain bread: you have to eat it within a couple of days because it becomes stale very quickly. Since there are only 2 of us and we are not usually very big bread consumers, my strategy involved dividing the dough to make smaller loaves, and giving away one. Great way to try many different bread recipes, not gain 10 lbs. a month, and gain popularity with colleagues and neighbors! While we would never want to take anything away from sharing, there is another solution. It's called vital wheat gluten (VWG), and when baking with whole grains I think it is the home breadbaker's BFF.

I came across mentions of VWG while perusing the forums on The Fresh Loaf, a wonderful resource for tips and stories from real bakers, both passionate hobbyists and professionals. VWG was touted as increasing the rise and improving the chew of whole grain breads, as well as prolonging their shelf life. We tried it with our first rye loaf, and were impressed at how fresh the loaf remained even on the third day after baking. The same as been true for this raisin rye, and now I don't think I would bake whole grain bread without it. When a bread dough is enriched with eggs, milk and oil, these additions also aid in prolonging bread's freshness and softness so vital wheat gluten is not necessary.

This loaf takes its sweet note to dear Champa of Versatile Vegetarian Kitchen, this month's host for Bread Baking Day. In the 37th edition of this monthly event — the brainchild of our Zorra @ 1x Umrühren Bittethe theme is Bread Made with Sponge/Pre-ferment. I am late to the game this month, as the last day to submit entries is tomorrow, but Champa promises to have a round-up by March 5th that will include not only yeast breads, but may include cakes, scones, waffles, pancakes and the like as long as they use a sponge (such as a sourdough), are vegetarian (can include eggs), and made in the month of February.

Makes approximately two 1lb. loaves or one 1kg loaf

Start about 30 hours before you intend to bake.

For the Sponge:
1 cup (230g) sourdough or rye sourdough starter
1 cup (90g) rye flour
½ cup (120ml) water
½ tsp caraway seeds (optional)

Combine starter, rye flour and water and stir well to combine. Add caraway seeds, if using, and stir in. Leave to ferment at room temperature for at least 24 hours.

For the Dough:
¾ cup (98g) whole wheat flour
2¼ cup (293g) bread flour (aka "strong" or Typ 550)
4 tsp. vital wheat gluten
1 tsp sea salt
1 TBL raw sugar
cup (158ml) warm water
2¼ tsp. active dry yeast (about 1 cake fresh yeast)
1 cup (150g) golden raisins
½ cup (75g) dark raisins
1 TBL flour, for raisins
1 TBL cornmeal, for baking sheet
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tsp water, for glazing

In a mixing bowl large enough to hold the finished dough, combine both flours, vital wheat gluten, salt and sugar. Mix well. Make a small well in the flours, add warm water and yeast and allow yeast to dissolve. Add fermented Sponge to yeast mixture in well. Slowly incorporate flour mixture into the well, until a shaggy dough forms.

Turn dough out onto a well-floured table and knead well until the dough becomes smooth and elastic, this took me about 13 minutes of hard kneading. Shape into a ball for first rise.

Oil a large bowl and turn dough ball to coat lightly with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature until doubled in size, mine took about 1½ hours.
Combine raisins and toss with 1 TBL flour to coat. Set aside until needed.

Pre-heat oven to 375F/190C. Sprinkle cornmeal over baking sheet.

Punch down dough, and gently knead. Allow to rest under cover for about 10 minutes. Gently roll out dough to the size of a sheet of paper. Sprinkle half of raisins over half the sheet, and fold dough close, as if closing a book. Press dough to lightly, and press dough back to the size of a sheet of paper again. Sprinkle remaining raisins and fold over dough to enclose the fruit again. Gently knead to distribute fruit through the dough.

Divide dough into 2 equal pieces and shape each into a free-form loaf. Place on prepared baking sheet. Cover each loaf with oiled plastic film and allow to proof until doubled in size, about 50 minutes to 1 hour. To test: gently press dough with a finger, if it springs back quickly, the dough needs more proofing time; if the indentation remains, it is ready to bake.

Brush loaves with egg yolk glaze, and slash tops with sharp razor or scalpel.

Place baking sheet in middle of oven, and spray sides of oven water. Immediately close oven door and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until loaf sounds hollow when tapped on its underside. A single 2lb/1kg loaf may take 35-40 minutes to bake. I turned the sheet around about half way through baking to ensure even browning.

Allow to cool completely on rack before slicing. Its mild sweetness and toothsome chew are wonderful on their own — it's the only way T. has eaten it so far. I've indulged with a pats of unsalted butter to accompany my morning coffee.


I (Heart) Cookies: Oatmeal Super Cookies

Hope you had a great Valentine's Day!

Mine started with a trip to the vet. Fortunately, it was just a folllow-up and we got the glad tidings that Kio is A-OK after 2 weeks of first not eating, then twice daily struggles to get him to take oral antibiotics. Cats and antibiotics are not a pretty picture. All the more reason Monday was a happy day when he got the all-clear.

A small thank you was in order for all the folks at the clinic who struggled with us to get him back on track: cookies that were good for their hearts and (we hope) touched their hearts. These oatmeal cookies have one-third less sugar than most oatmeal recipes, but you miss none of it because of all the dried fruit. I opted for a super antioxidant blend of blueberries, tart cherries, wolfberries, and cranberries for their colors, sweetness and heart-protective properties. In honor of V-Day, we went for the heart shape — what better way to say they come from our hearts, too! Even without the extra bling of dark chocolate drizzle, these cookies will satisfy any sweet tooth. Leave any guilt at the door!

(Makes 24-26 extra large heart-shaped cookies, or 4-4½ dozen regular cookies)

1cup (100g) unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup (65g) whole wheat flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
½ tsp sea salt
1 tsp baking soda
8oz/2 sticks (225g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1cup (190g) raw sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup (75g) dried blueberries
½ cup (70g) dried wolfberries (aka goji berries)
¼ cup (35g) dried cranberries, halved
¼ cup (35g) dried tart (montmorency) cherries, diced
3 cups (240g) rolled old-fashioned oats
(optional garnish) ½ cup/3.5oz (100g) dark chocolate chips (at least 60% cacao, if you want to keep it "heart-smart", we recommend Ghiardelli)

In a medium bowl, combine flours, spices, salt and baking soda. Sift together.

In a large mixing bowl beat together butter and sugar until well blended. (You can use a hand-mixer or stand mixer for mixing until the point the dried fruit are added.) Add eggs and beat to combine. Add vanilla and mix in well.

Add flour mixture and beat on low to combine, then on medium for 2 minutes. Add all dried fruit and mix in with a wooden spoon. Add oats and stir well to combine oats and fruit evenly.

For heart-shaped cookies: Make 24-26 balls and place on plate. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to allow dough to chill enough to shape.

Preheat oven to 350F/180C.

After dough is chilled, work with 3-4 balls at a time to pat out a heart shape with your hands, and place on baking sheet. I could fit 12 cookies per sheet. Bake 15 minutes for soft, chewy cookie, or 17-18 minutes for a crisper cookie.
Immediately remove from sheet and cool on rack. Place baking sheet under rack, if chocolate drizzle will be added after cookies cool.

For optional garnish, place chocolate chips in microwave-proof bowl and microwave on medium heat for 20 seconds. Stir to melt and combine. If chocolate does not melt completely, microwave in 5 second increments, stirring after each session. Working quickly, use fork to drizzle chocolate on cookies. Let cool completely.

Share with your Valentine and everyone on your (Heart) List!


Schmalz & Gribenes: A Kitchen Experiment in Using Every Bit

Schmalz? Gribenes? Sound like characters in a cartoon strip from the turn of the LAST century, don't they? In this case, though, they refer to two products from one of the most maligned chicken parts in our health-conscious world: the chicken skin. Schmalz is the liquid or semi-solid rendered fat, and gribenes is the crispy bits of skin left after rendering fat from skin (think: chicken equivalent of pork rinds). Why on earth would any one want to make these, much less eat them? Because they taste so-o-o good... Bad for you, absolutely. Delicious, undeniable.

We first sampled Schmalz when we lived in Germany, where it might be brought to the table as an alternative to butter for bread, or purchased as an open-faced sandwich snack. In Germany, though, most of the Schmalz we saw was made from pork lard, rather than from chicken — it was white and firm, and very bland on its own though it was most often flavored with herbs, onion and salt. I was never crazy about Schmalz in the 7 years we lived there.

Chicken schmalz, though, is a different animal. Golden yellow and fragrant, it makes a nice little smackerel on crusty bread, preferably sprinkled with its fraternal twin, gribenes. Schmalz can also be used as a condiment — I read that some delis offer schmalz on roast beef sandwiches! And gribenes can be used to garnish pasta, potatoes, salads — pretty much anything to which you want to add a little crunch. Other types of schmalz can be made from goose or duck fat.

Undertaking this process was more about finding useful purpose for things we would otherwise throw away than as a call to endanger heart health. I decided to try my hand at making schmalz when I ended up with a tray of a dozen kosher chicken thighs. Normally when we buy large quantities of meat, I divide them into smaller freezer packs, trimmed and ready for use later.

In this case I de-boned some of the thighs, and removed all backbones still attached to the thigh bones — those made a quick chicken broth that can be used for soup or for cooking. I also trimmed away the excess fat and most of the skin. Rather than throw out the skin as I usually did, I cut it up (kitchen shears worked much better than my knife) and threw it and the trimmed fat into a cast iron pan set on medium low.

To start, I did not add any seasoning. I wanted to keep some plain schmalz to use as a cooking medium, the same as we have a jar of ghee for certain types of South Asian cooking. As the fat began to render and liquefy, I removed enough to fill a half-pint jar to keep for cooking. I then added a quarter of a small onion, finely diced, to the pan and about a quarter teaspoon of sea salt. The pan continued cooking on medium low until the skin reached the desired browning and crispness. This took about 40 minutes total rendering/browning time.

I considered this finished.

After decanting the seasoned liquid schmalz into 2 containers (top and bottom right), I added some of the onions and gribenes to each container. The remaining gribenes were kept separate — they can be re-crisped before using. The clear gold jar is the unseasoned schmalz for cooking.

In the remaining fat in the pan, I browned a few skinless thighs for dinner, then deglazed the pan with some of the broth on the back burner. To be honest, I was so focused on the fat products that I hadn't made an actual plan for the thighs themselves, so I put them and the deglazing liquid in the slow cooker with onions, garlic and bay leaves, as well as a cinnamon stick and cumin and caraway seeds with a vague notion of later adding chickpeas and dried apricots for a North African style stew. After cleaning up, I sat down for a break and to catch up with some favorite blogs when I came across an inspired touch from Rowena @Rubber Slippers in Italy. She shared a recipe for an African beef stew with a peanut butter sauce called Mafé, and there was something about the peanut butter that sounded really good to me. I immediately added some butternut squash, the chickpeas and the remainder of our jar of peanut butter — about a 1/3 cup, to the slow cooker. Rowena used different seasonings so I wasn't sure how this would turn out, but in fact we really liked the final combination. Don't you love when inspiration smacks you on the head like that?! (Thanks, Rowena!)

The schmalz for snacking will look like this before and after the fat cools. In the photo on the right, the gribenes was toasted in a toaster oven, where they "popped" and became even more like pork rinds in texture — airy and very crispy. I'm thinking they would be great mixed in with some popcorn too...

In keeping with my resolve to bake bread at home, I opted to make my own light rye bread to go with the schmalz and gribenes. I count kneading bread as exercise to justify these calories. LOL. No, really....

I limited myself to a single slice of bread as a snack. It was hard. Very hard.

From this kitchen experiment, we also got that African (via Lecco, Italy) chicken stew
with butternut and chickpeas in peanut butter sauce, and...

From the chicken broth we got a soup with Cinderella squash, lacinato kale, meatballs
and whole wheat shells for a second dinner the following night.
All in all, a very satisfying experiment!


It Was A Feast: BBQ prize from Serious Eats

The Game is over. The bones gnawed clean. Digestifs imbibed. It was a feast from first to last — smoky to the core, tender in all the right places, tangy in all the right notes.

Mike Mills and his crew at 17th Street Bar&Grill have the thanks of our 6 hearty eaters for providing the incredible BBQ Feast prize we won from Serious Eats.

The chilled box arrived Friday night, packed with frozen packs

In addition to the edibles, Mike included an autographed copy of his BBQ tome, "Peace, Love and Barbecue"
(happily, the recipe for the tangy Pit Beans are in the book!)
You can order this Feast for yourself!

Pit Beans, Spicy Sauce and oh-so-smoky Pulled Pork

The Magic Dusted Ribs

Where to start first?

Our plate runneth over....


Round-ups, 'Cue & Bee-ing Friendly

I am attending "Bee School" today for most of the day (a short course on bee-keeping), but so much is buzzzzing around here we just had to share.

First of all, the round-ups for My Legume Love Affair #31 and Bread Baking Day #36 are both up for your perusing pleasure.

Simona @ briciole received so many entries for MLLA#31 that she had to split the entries into 2 posts — they are linked together in each post, or here you can find Part One and Part Two (we're in P.2). You'll find an incredible selection of salads, breads, soups and stews made with beans or bean flours. Truly inspirational.

Need something to go with those beans? Don't miss Heather's (of Girlichef) round-up of Bread Baking Day #36 featuring breads baked with cornmeal or whole corn from avid home bakers around the world. You are pretty much guaranteed to find something corny to your taste: there are yeast breads, quick breads, flat breads, filled breads, breadsticks, steamed buns, biscuits, and sweet breads in this collection!

Second, our BBQ Feast from Mike Mills' 17th Street Bar&Grill arrived last night! Yay, BBQ! Who says poetry doesn't pay?? (photo taken with phone) Seriously, if I didn't have this class all day today, we probably would have bumped up our feasting to tonight! Well, the anticipation is killing me, but the bees are a-calling.

And speaking of bees, a last note. Holly @Tasty Travels is justifiably concerned about the plight of the gardener's best friend, the honey bee. She wants to encourage us all to consider including bee-friendly flowers as we plan our gardens for this spring. She's looking for participants who would like to swap seeds for bee-friendly flowers with others from around the world to invite bees into their gardens. Read more about participating here.


Serious Eating: Oven-Fried Buffalo Wings and a Prize

Can you tell what's different about this fried chicken wing? OK, if you hadn't already read the title of this post would you have thought that this wing was deep-fried? See the blisters on the skin, the crunchy bubbly bits that will hold all that buttery hot sauce? That does not just happen on oven-fried chicken skin, no matter how long you keep them in the oven, no matter how close to the broiler you might dare to put them. I know, I've tried. As I've mentioned before, I avoid deep-fat frying and even shy from shallow frying if I can help it. Not because of health concerns but because I hate the clean up. You have to be a deep-fried stuffed olive to tempt me to the fryer!

But I do love Buffalo wings. I remember the first time I tried them. I was visiting Seattle. The restaurant specialized in seafood, but one of my companions insisted on ordering this strange appetizer — it was the 80s, Buffalo wings were just hitting the far coast. One bite, two. The plate was soon emptied and a great love was born.

As a rule, I have limited Buffalo wing consumption to an occasional treat enjoyed only when eating out. In the last few years, though, more often than not, Buffalo wings we've been served have been a disappointment and not worthy of the caloric overload they entail. A year or so ago I tried oven-baking wings at home, it satisfied the taste craving but not the crunch craving because the oven-baked chicken skin came out smooth and slick. I was consigning myself to the dread task of frying for this year's Buffalo wing orgy until I came across a Food Lab dissertation on how to get the fat-fried effect in the oven. Again, our sensei in this journey is J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, the very same who talked us through making fresh cheese at home. The great (and twice repeated) success of that venture prompted me to try Mr. Lopez-Alt's carefully researched method for the perfect crunch in oven-fried chicken skin.

As you can see, it worked very well! I won't spoil the secret to Mr. Lopez-Alt's method — his writing is always a fun read and his research is thorough (did he really say 12lbs. of chicken wings to perfect this method?) so I encourage you to discover it for yourself. (Hint: the first picture of the uncooked wings below gives you 2 clues on how it's done.)

Food Lab is part of the Serious Eats family dedicated to all things that can be imbibed, noshed, slurped, and otherwise happily consumed. While we were in the midst of prepping these wings, I received an email from Erin, an editor at Serious Eats, with the stunning news that an haiku I submitted for their BBQ feast giveaway was one of three selected by the SE team as a winner! How exciting is that?!

What this means is that instead of re-creating these wings this Sunday, we will instead be immersed in intense BBQ porkiness in the form of a couple of racks of ribs, pulled pork, baked beans, sauce and Magic Dust from none other than BBQ legend Mike Mills of the 17th Street Bar & Grill in Murphysboro, IL. Consistently chosen as "best ribs" in the U.S. (Bon Appetit, and Playboy!), 17th Street Bar&Grill was most recently featured on the Food Network's Food Feuds wherein host Michael Symon declared 17th Street's "the single best rib I've ever had in my pork-lovin' life." I've only heard tell of legendary Memphis BBQ, never having had the pleasure of a visit myself — so to know we'll be receiving the best of the best, I can hardly contain myself!

Mahalo nui loa, Domo arigato gozaimashita, Vielen Dank, Merci beaucoup, and a heartfelt Thank You to the Serious Eats wordsmiths and to Mike Mills and the 17th Street Bar&Grill crew for this incredible bounty! We'll be sharing the spread with friends, and will post the Feast here over the weekend. In the meantime, you can read my winning tribute to the sauce and bone here. If you'd like to order a BBQ Feast for yourself, 17th Street can deliver to your doorstep, too! BUT I'm seriously digressing...

Back to the wings... Here is a quick look of how we achieved better (especially for our hearts) than deep-fried chicken wings for our favorite Buffalo hot sauce.

After 18 hours of non-attentive prepping (3d hint), the wings are ready for the oven.
One thing I did that was not in JKL's method was to drizzle a bit of
light olive oil over the wings after this pic was taken.

Hot out of the oven, they are perfectly browned and
have just the right kind of bumps and bits to cling to sauce.

An incredibly satisfying first course (we had these with rice — weird, I know)
or perfect for a party since you don't have to stand over a hot stove
and splattering oil to cook up a large batch!
Read how this was done, or go straight to the recipe.


BMB: New York-style Light Rye Breads

My new year's resolution to bake bread at home has continued apace (Bake More Bread: BMB). From Anadama to Oatmeal to fruity Banana Yeast, finally we get to the sourdoughs. These are New York style sourdough rye loaves.

On the first day of the new year, I began a wild sourdough starter and attempted to follow directions from Sue, an accomplished bread baker and cheesemaker, at Know Whey. I began running into trouble early on. Sue's directions called for removing a quantity of the starter each day by weight. That sounds logical, and on sight it seems easy. It was not. At least not for me.

The starter batter is very sticky. Could-be-used-to-set-wallpaper sticky. And equally gloppy. In the end I was just not talented enough to weigh and remove the required amount of starter each day without creating a huge mess. Goop on my clothes. Streaky smears on the counters. And paste coating all the utensils, bowls and kitchen scale. It was getting discouraging, so rather than give up on my starter, I gave up on the weighing the starter. Instead I eye-balled what looked like 50% of the starter to use or dump, but still weighed the flour and water going in. And I kept my fingers crossed.

After the requisite one week development period, I was happy to see that the starter looked healthy and active. I gave her a couple more days to really settle in and develop some "sour" before putting her to work. Yes, her. We know sourdoughs are live, active cultures — they must be fed and changed on a regular basis, right? Well, meet "Katharine" or Kate for short — she's bubbly and energetic, with a stern backbone (of whole wheat) despite her soft appearance. Kinda like the actress after whom she's named. This photo was taken today.

My first attempt to make an all sourdough bread (i.e., no yeast) was a potato sourdough that I made into a braid and into rolls. This recipe cautioned that raising and proofing times could be quite extended. The first rise took 8 hours, and the proofing sometime less than 6. In fact, I miscalculated the proofing time based on that first rise, and by the time I checked the breads at 6 hours, the braid had collapsed. The rolls came out all right — a bit dense and light-colored.

For the second sourdough I chose a light rye recipe from "Secrets of a Jewish Baker" by George Greenstein since I had made a Jewish recipe called Schmalz & Gribenes that is often served with rye breads. This is a very involved bread recipe. You begin well over 48 hours before you want to bake by first making a caraway-seasoned rye-based starter. After the first 24 hours, the starter is fed more rye flour in 3 additional stages. After another 18 hours, you're ready to start the dough.
Instead of starting from scratch, I used Kate as the beginning starter and added crushed caraway seeds along with the first measure of rye flour and water for Stage One. The seeds completely disintegrate by the time the starter is ready to be made into a dough, so if you don't want seeds in the final bread, you can still add them at Stage One for the flavor boost they will give your starter. After each feeding, the starter is allowed to double, though the time required for doubling shortens with each stage. Maybe because I did not start from scratch with Mr. Greenstein's recipe, the Stage One rise took 10 hours. Stage Two took about 5, while Stage Three took about 4 hours.

After Stage Three, I removed about a half-cup of the rye sourdough to use for our next loaf — his name is George, of course. Per Mr. Greenstein's recommendation, he's covered with a film of water and lives in the fridge. Kate sits on the sideboard at room temperature.

When making the dough, I again had to depart from Mr. Greenstein's meticulous directions because I had neither clear flour nor left-over rye bread to make something called the Altus, basically a wet mash of left-over rye bread that provides that je ne sais quoi of real rye breads. Clear flour, also called first clear, is a specialty bakery flour — it is traditionally what's left after the first sifting of milled wheat to create white flour. So clear flour has some quantity of wheat bran and germ that are considered undesirable for white flour purposes. Evidently one doesn't find clear flour on market shelves(super-, co-op, specialty or otherwise). You either have to chat up an artisan baker into selling you some, or order it online. Online sources can charge twice as much for shipping as they charge for the flour itself, so you might want to plan accordingly and put all your specialty baking needs in one order. Alternatively, one bread baker's forum suggested a ratio of 3:1 all-purpose flour to whole wheat as a passable substitute for clear flour. I used 3:1 bread flour to whole wheat flour. This bread uses yeast as a leavener in addition to the sourdough, and I also included vital wheat gluten to increase the bread's lift and keeping ability.

The bread is painted with cornstarch solution before it is slashed, then again as soon as it comes out of the oven. I had not used this glaze before — it adds an interesting powdered shine to the finished loaf, don't you think? During baking, the sides of the oven are sprayed with water to create steam that for that distinctive chewy thick crust.

These are the final loaves we got: 2 plain, free-form loaves and one stuffed bread (a la Reuben). I am tickled at how chewy and tasty these breads were — pleasantly sour and redolent of rye. I doubled the amount of caraway seeds called for in the recipe, and I think it could hold up to even more. The rye and sour develop beautifully and taste even better on the second and third days. It was kind of hard but I portioned out a couple of slices to dry and keep for the Altus next time.

I refer any interested bakers to Mr. Greenstein's recipe for the directions for this wonderful bread — they reflect a lifetime of learning and a close understanding of the bread baker's art. Don't be put off by the long lead times — the starter itself is very simple, and most of the work is done by Mother Nature. I am looking forward to baking this again with the Altus and clear flour to see just what the difference will be, but I would not hesitate to bake this with the substituted flours again if I didn't have time to sweet talk a baker.

As I hoped, the light rye was the perfect foil for the Schmalz and Gribenes (GRIB-buh-nuhs).
Translation: Seasoned chicken fat and crispy chicken skin.
Mmmm, chicken skin... Look for that soon.


Loroco Cream Sauce

Loroco (Fernaldia pandurata). As piquant as capers but not pickled, and with the full earthiness of an artichoke, these buds of a flowering vine are native to Central America and are used as a flavoring agent or vegetable in many popular dishes of the region.

We were introduced to Lorocos soon after our arrival to the D.C. area in 2008. Of course, it was at one of the many Salvadoran pupuseria that can be found in Maryland's metro area near D.C. This one was across from the hotel to which we had encamped while we hunted for rental housing. We were there for a month. We ate a lot of pupusas. (For the uninitiated, pupusas are thick cornmeal tortillas with a filling of beans or cheese or meat or lorocos, or some combination of these, and often served with pickled cabbage and carrot salad, see photo left, the pupusas are the flat discs on either side of hte salad). But I digress. One of the more popular pupusa fillings is cheese and lorocos, and not having any idea what lorocos were as we pondered our first pupusa menu, we had to try them first. The woman taking our order told us loroco was a flower — great, we like edible flowers!

Truthfully, there almost was not a second order. On first bite, T and I looked at each other with that look, "Do you like it?" Uhhhh, not sure. In addition to the sheer vegetal quality of the flower buds, there was also the surprising tanginess, then a slight bitter aftertaste. But we eat lots of bitter vegetables, so onto the second bite. Now that we were over the shock of first taste, we had time to focus on how the sharp lorocos blended with the creamy blandness of the cheese. Mmmmmm, nice counterpoint. By the time we had finished the first pupusa, we were hooked — pupusa con queso y lorocos became our favorite order and the standard by which we evaluated new pupuseria we visited.

We find lorocos most often in the frozen section of Hispanic groceries and even many Asian markets (H-Mart, Korean Korner, Lotte Plaza in the metro DC area) that also serve large Central American communities. I've also seen large jars of pickled loroco buds but have not tried these since we prefer the frozen buds, which have only one ingredient: lorocos. The first loroco recipe we tried at home was for a soup of beans and lorocos, which proved to be equally addictive — we've made it at least 3 times and which I promise to post that as soon as I remember to take a photo before we finish off the whole pot.

More recently, we read about a lorocos cream sauce with chicken that we could not pass up. Since we had all the ingredients on hand except chicken (yes, we had lorocos but no chicken, go figure), I substituted pork chops for the chicken legs. Another show-stopper — lick-your-plate-and-try-to-steal-your-spouse's tasty! The sharpness and bitterness that are hallmarks of loroco in pupusas and the bean soup are completely missing here. Instead the buds mellow into a flavor more reminiscent of asparagus. I guess they even look a little like tiny asparagus in the sauce, don't they? But there is also an earthier undertone than asparagus alone would lend to this sauce that just says, More, please! I'll be buying frozen lorocos buds in multiple quantities to keep in the freezer from here on out. And yes, I should probably pick up some chicken too!

This recipe is adapted from one shared by Anne at Rainforest Recipes, who lives and works with the Ix-Canaan project in Guatemala. Finding her site set me off on of those long digressions for which the Interwebs is so infamous to learn about the Ix-Canaan project and their efforts to introduce sustainable agriculture and the preservation of indigenous culture to their corner of Guatemala. Now I'm looking for breadnut flour too... Anne has a photo of the fresh loroco flowers on her recipe page if you'd like to see how pretty those are (follow her link). Don't recall seeing fresh loroco buds here, but I haven't frequented Hispanic markets very much in the past. This spring, though, I will keep my eye out for these.

UPDATE (02/16/2011): We craved this sauce again, and tried it with mahi-mahi fillets (above). Still delicious, but would recommend including 1 tsp. fish sauce when adding broth to increase the umami in the finished sauce. Pork and chicken have more natural umami than this firm, white-flesh fish and the sauce needs the boost.

Adapted from Anne's recipe
Serves 3-4 persons

Apparently in Guatemala the traditional meat for this sauce is chicken (4 legs or a whole chicken, cut up) and we will give that a try soon, but we will also be saucing fish (cod or mahi mahi) and maybe even rabbit with this, too! I would recommend 2 lbs of mushrooms and doubling the quantity of potato as a vegetarian option that would complement and absorb the unique flavors of this sauce.

4 medium-cut pork chops
sea salt and black pepper
2 TBL olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1½ cup broth or water, divided
1 tomato, diced
1 sprig fresh thyme, or ¼ tsp dried
2 bay leaves
1½ cup broth or water
1 package frozen lorocos = 6oz or 170g
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
¾ cup heavy cream

Pat dry chops, and season well. Over medium high heat, warm oil in a skillet large enough to hold all ingredients. Brown both sides of each chop, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove and keep aside.

Reduce heat to medium low. In remaining oil in pan, add onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes. Add tomato, thyme and bay leaves, and continue cooking until onions become translucent, another 4-6 minutes.

Add broth, and gently scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the skillet. Add loroco buds, potatoes, and return pork chops to skillet. Cover and simmer gently 10-15 minutes.

(I found it easier to blend the cream into the sauce if I removed the chops before adding the cream, but this step is optional.) Add cream to skillet and stir through to combine, cover and simmer another 5-10 minutes or until the chops are cooked through.

Serve over white rice, with plenty of napkins!


The Quiver (Chawan Mushi update)

Finally.... a chawan mushi I would serve to my mother: the perfect jiggly, quivering, slurp-worthy custard.

Recipe and directions here.


Boston-style Baked Beans (via Tokyo)

Hard to believe isn't it, that these started as lily-white great Northern beans? Besides all the extra minerals, especially iron, that is packed in unsulphured (also known as "blackstrap) molasses, it also adds such a rich color to everything you cook with it: bread, cookies, Boston-style baked beans.

We've been making this recipe from The Bean Bible since 2001. We've tweaked the original recipe many times over to include more spices, especially mustard powder, and sometimes even a serrano chile or two. With a nice crusty bread, it's really a meal in itself.

When I mentioned baked beans and brown bread in an earlier post, I knew that after a 3-year absence there would be baked beans in our near future. Well, that was last week. But as I made up my shopping list and automatically added salt pork for the recipe to the list, I asked myself: Do we really needed salt pork to make this dish so tasty? Hmmm... Now, I love pork, amost meats, really, but during the last 3 years of learning from my fellow bloggers, especially those who are vegetarians or come from vegetarian traditions, I realized that you don't always need to add meat to beans and pulses to make them delicious or luscious. In fact, many of our meat-less meals during the week are meat-less beans. The key, it seemed, is developing a good base of aromatics, including generous amounts of cooking oil and toasted spices. OK, that's true of all good cooking, so what could I do to keep the flavor of baked beans true to its recipe, but without the salt pork that provides so much umami and body (by way of fat)?

It was a puzzlement...

The answer came later as I started planning for another dish — something completely unrelated: miso-marinated salmon. We had salmon (check), we had ginger (check), we had miso (*lightbulb moment*)... Yes, we had miso! Umami-packed, mineral rich, luscious miso paste! That was it — substitute miso paste for salt pork! Why not give it a try?

So I diced the onion and sauteed it, instead of leaving whole with cloves stuck in it as called for in the recipe. Also added a few cloves of garlic and a touch more of certain spices to ramp up the aromatics. As the beans cooked, I tasted to correct any seasoning, and thought the miso really hit the right spot for flavor in the beans — they were full-flavored, umami-licious and tender. But one thing bothered me. Something was missing: the rich mouthfeel that comes with beans cooked with fatty meats like salt pork — I like that! Fortunately, the fix was an easy one: add more olive oil. Yes, it's more fat, but it's monounsaturated fat which is supposed to good for your heart, so no guilt here!

A bowl of of these sweet and savory beans are winging their way across the Atlantic to sweet Simona at briciole, this month's host for My Legume Love Affair, an event celebrating the humble bean, and the brainchild of that Well-Seasoned Cook, Susan. Simona is accepting recipes for this, the 31st edition of MLLA, until the end of this month. But you can plan ahead for future events by checking out the line-up of future hosts here.

This recipe tweak all began with molasses-rich Anadama Bread, the start of my resolution to bake bread at home. Our second Anadama loaf, shaped into a braid this time, was the perfect accompaniment to these beans.

Inspired by The Bean Bible by Aliza Green
Serves 6-8 persons

1lb (455g) dried great Northern beans
4 TBL olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped (optional)
1½ TBL ground mustard powder
1 TBL ground ginger
8 whole cloves, placed in teaball or wrapped in cheesecloth
1 cup (240ml/ 350g) unsulphured (aka blackstrap) molasses
1 cup (190g) raw sugar, or (200g) dark brown sugar
1 tsp sea salt
1½ tsp ground black pepper
1/4 cup (60ml or 88g) shiro miso paste
2-3 TBL olive oil (optional, but recommended)

Soak beans in 2 qt/L cold water overnight. Or, bring dried beans and water to boil over high heat, then remove from heat and cover for 1 hour.

Drain rehydrated beans and add to slow-cooker with 6 cups (1½ liters) cold water. Set heat setting to HIGH. It's important NOT to add any salt at this point. If salt is added to the cooking water before the interior of the bean has started to soften, the shell with toughen and the interior will remain hard. Leave on HIGH for 3 hours.

Meanwhile, in a small pan, cook onions and garlic (if using) in first 4 TBL olive oil over medium heat. Cook until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add mustard and ginger powders, stir to combine and continue cooking for another 2 minutes. After beans have cooked alone for 3 hours, add aromatics to slow-cooker, along with molasses, sugar, salt, pepper, miso and remaining olive oil. Turn heat down to LOW for remaining 5 hours.

Sauce will thicken and beans will become tender when cooked through. Serve with your favorite crusty bread as a meal, or as a side dish with grilled hot dogs, brats or burgers.

For the carnivores in your life, you can quickly turn these into
Franks and Beans by topping with your favorite hot dog.


Chawan Mushi: Comfort in a Cup

UPDATE: 01/27/2011:
There's much mention of quivering chawan mushi custard here. This is what it looks like.


Today the high temperature here will be 26 deg. Fahrenheit. It sounds even colder in Celsius: -3 deg. Brrrrrrrrr...

When the weather outside is frightful, it’s nice to have a little something extra to warm you up on the inside. We’ve been getting some harsh winds and cold temps (but little snow) so yes, we’ve had our share of soups, teas, hot cereal and Glühwein this winter. But if you’re looking for a different kind of warming cup to chase away the chill, how about a savory steamed custard?

Chawan Mushi is a Japanese cold-weather classic: delicate egg custard in a light sea-scented broth with hidden treasures, no less — sake-marinated chicken and/or shrimp, pretty pink or red fishcake fans, shiitake mushroom, maybe even a gingko nut or fresh watercress or mitsuba. Despite the fact that my mother is Okinawan (or maybe because she was Okinawan?), she did not often make this when we were growing up. In fact, I don’t remember ever having one of these until I was in college! One taste, though, and it was love at first slurp.

For me, the anticipation of breaking the surface of chawan mushi is very much akin to that delightful moment just as your spoon cracks the glass of burnt sugar crowning a creme brulee. Despite the great anticipation, you almost see your spoon go into slow motion as it nears the egg surface. Then the spoon is under, and a rush of clear sweet dashi broth fills the gash. Your spoon returns with a piece of treasure: will it be a boozy piece of chicken, a shrimp butterfly, or a ginko nut? No matter which, you are the winner!

Chawan Mushi translates as “teacup steam” — a clue as to how it’s prepared and served. Although special lidded cups have evolved specifically to serve chawan mushi, any tall heat-proof cup that will hold at least 4 fluid ounces (120ml) will make do in a pinch. For the first batch, I even used another type of steamed-egg vessel as a pretty chawan mushi cup — an English egg coddler! I’ve always admired porcelain coddlers, though I’ve never had an actual coddled egg (basically, a seasoned soft “boiled” egg cooked with steam). I found this one in a second-hand shop and now it can do double-duty for this too! The coddler was a little small, which meant less custard once the yummy fillings were placed on the bottom. But that only means you might have to eat two!

Sometimes, we cooks can be intimidated about trying something in the kitchen that seems exotic to us, or even something that we just haven’t done before. (I know I can be.) In truth, making chawan mushi is a lot like making that other great egg custard, the quiche. If you can make quiche, you can make this — and you don’t have to make a pie crust! In both cases, the standard of perfection is the quiver — that precise moment when the egg just sets and is cooked through, but is still a delicate, jiggly mass on the verge of collapse. The key to cooking in both cases is lower, even heat so the center has a chance to set before the edges turn to rubber.

Since I only had the memory of mom’s chawan mushi as a guide but no recipe, I turned to the Interwebs to look for those tried and true home-tested recipes for which I’ve come to rely on my fellow bloggers. I've tried making chawan mushi using a recipe from a book before, but I know there are so many more out there!

Many that I saw did not marinate the meats before cooking, and I have a clear memory of sake-flavored cubes of chicken and shrimp draped in eggy goodness (also flavored with sake). In the end, I went with Francis’ recipe from his youtube video series, "Cooking with Dog," which he hosts and narrates. For those who have yet to discover Francis’ innovative instructional videos, this is what you need to know: Francis IS the Dog! A grey poodle, I think. And in his perfect, accented English he talks viewers through step-by-step directions for making several dozen popular Japanese dishes while they are demonstrated and prepared by the unnamed human sous chef to his left. Firmly putting aside hygiene concerns about a dog in the kitchen, you can’t help but be entertained by this unlikely duo — and if you’re not careful you’ll also actually learn to make these Japanese favorites! I adapted Francis’ recipe (below) for quantity and filling ingredients, but here for your viewing pleasure and edification is Francis and Friend on making chawan mushi:

So if you’ve no place to go, let it snow, let it snow! You can stay home and comfort yourself up with a (tea)cup of warm egg-y goodness. Me, I’ll be practicing until we get the Quiver.

(adapted from Francis' recipe in above video)
Serves 4 persons
Let me make this clear: this is not a dessert. Chawan mushi would make a decadent brunch entree — a change-up from Eggs Benedict, for sure. It would also make a unique, light starter for a winter dinner menu. In either case, serve with your favorite bubbly.

For the Fillings:
½ boneless, skinless chicken thigh, cut into 8 pieces
4 small raw shrimp, preferably with tails on (it's just for show, but I like seeing the tails above the custard)
2 tsp mirin, divided
(or 2 tsp sake + 1/2 tsp raw sugar, stir to dissolve sugar, then divide)
1 tsp shoyu (soy sauce), divided
4 ginko nuts, if using
(we didn't have any so I used fresh baby corn instead)
1 fresh shiitake or black mushroom, cut into quarters or sixths (whatever will fit your cup)

In 2 small bowls, place 1 tsp mirin and ½ tsp shoyu in each bowl. Put chicken pieces in one bowl, and shrimp in the other. Stir to coat meat/shrimp well. Set aside for 10 minutes.

Prepare your steamer. If you're using a towel on your lid, as shown in Francis' video, a simple rubber band will help keep the ends of the towel away from the heat source. Not as much of a problem if you're using a flat-top cooking surface, but for gas and even conventional electric stoves a towel can become a fire hazard.

Set your steaming vessel over high heat to get it going, then turn down to medium and keep it at that heat.

Place the bowl with the chicken and marinade in the steamer and cook for 8-10 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken pieces. Remove and set aside.

Place 2 pieces of chicken, 1 shrimp (raw), gingko (if using) and a piece of mushroom on the bottom of each cup. Set aside while you prepare the custard.

(If this serves 4, how come there are only 3 cups?
Because I took a cue from Judy at Bebe Love Okazu
to make one super-size cup — it was actually a bowl —
of all the left-overs for one lucky someone**)

For the Custard:
2 cups (500ml) warm water (or homemade katsuo dashi broth, then skip the hon dashi)
1½ tsp hon dashi (powdered bonito broth)
1 TBL sake
1 tsp shoyu
½ tsp sea salt
3 large eggs

Mitsuba leaves to garnish (this is the traditional garnish, these photos show flat-leaf parsley)

The type of soy sauce called for in this recipe, usukuchi, is not what we know in the West as "light soy sauce", which is low-sodium soy sauce. Since we didn't have usukuchi and I was using the stronger, sweeter regular shoyu, I increased the amount of sake, cut down the amount of regular shoyu and included some sea salt, which I would have left out completely if using usukuchi.

Add hon dashi to warm water and stir to dissolve, add sake, shoyu and salt.

Beat together 3 eggs. Strain through a medium fine strainer to remove the stringy bits (the chalaza) and any large bits of egg white. Add seasoned dashi liquid to eggs and stir gently to combine, try not to get too many bubbles on the egg surface. If you like, you can remove bubbles with a teaspoon before proceeding.

With a small ladle (a Chinese soup spoon works well for this), carefully spoon custard over filling ingredients in the cup. Some ingredients may start to float if you add too much custard. I only add enough to just cover the shrimp meat so the fillings don't come to the surface. Again, if there are any bubbles on the egg surface, you can "scoop" them out with a spoon — bubbles on the surface will pop during steaming and leave an undesirable pock mark on your custard.

Place your cups in the steamer. Cover and allow to steam for 10-20 minutes, or until custard is just set. You can check by gently separating one edge of the custard from the cup: if it fills with clear liquid, the custard is ready to eat, otherwise steam a little longer.

Remove carefully from steamer, and top with mitsuba, or other green for garnish. Cover and bring to table. Best eaten while hot!

The first batch in these photos did not meet the “Quiver Standard” to which all chawan mushi must be held. It tasted good, but there was no quiver. I want the quiver, darn it! Of course, this means I will have to do this again. Probably more than once. (I'll update this with a photo of the Quiver when I get it right.)

**This was what was in the bonus bowl... You'll have to ask T. how it tasted!!


Soup's On: Potato, Leek & Rainbow Chard

Well here we are, more than half way through National Soup Month and this is only the first soup we've posted! Truth to tell, I didn't even remember January was set aside to honor soup until my SIL sent me a head's up about it yesterday. (Thanks, Tra!)

As yours probably does too, our soup consumption climbs as the thermometer starts to dip. And we've been near or below freezing for awhile in our corner of Maryland. Therefore, lots of soup.

And for some reason, we've had more than our usual share of potato-based soups lately. Maybe because these potato soup recipes usually don't require a lot of long-simmering stock and can be ready from knife to table in under an hour. Maybe because potatoes are both plentiful and filling in the winter. Maybe because we love potatoes. Probably all of the above.

When first snow, then ice kept this island girl indoors and away from driving last week, by Friday I was really eager to re-stock fresh greens in our larder. I spotted this bunch of rainbow chard from across the crowded produce department of our nearest Korean market, glimpsed in snatches between a shuffling mass of bundled shoppers (transported in 4 buses from a nearby retirement community) all jostling for the best produce. But the chard's bright colors were a technicolor beacon: Buy Me, it called. And I knew I would.

So now it's starring in this potato-based soup which I've dubbed Rainbow Soup, named for the colorful chard stalks that double as a healthy, low-cal "crouton" garnish. In addition to potatoes, there is a healthy helping of leeks and a whisper of cream. Hmmmm, you're saying to yourself, this sounds suspiciously like vichyssoise. And you're right! That is one of our favorite soups — chilled or not — so we're building on that flavor profile. The inspiration for throwing in the greens comes from another hearty favorite, Caldo Verde, the Portuguese-style potato and kale soup.

The rainbow inspiration also comes from waxing nostalgic about living on Oahu while putting on 3 layers of clothing every morning — and that's if I'm just staying home! (Did I mention I grew up on an island?) Hawaii is nicknamed the Rainbow State, for obvious reasons, and the vibrant color and crunch from these chard stems are a welcome splash of Aloha against the monotone in both the skies and our soup bowls. (Though I would prefer my Aloha-in-a-bowl in the form of a Loco-Moco, but that's another story...)

And since we're taking this 4800 mile segue anyway, I've been meaning to give a shout out to the folks at Hawaii's public radio station, KIPO, and one of our favorite local programs there, Aloha Shortsa weekly program hosted by Cedric Yamanka of short stories written by local authors and read before a live studio audience by local actors and story tellers. The best way to get your weekly dose of island flavor, short of the 12-hour flight from the East Coast! Aloha Shorts has long been available for live-streaming from the KIPO website, but for those of us who are not awake at midnight (EST) to catch the show live, Aloha Shorts is now available as a podcast from Bamboo Ridge Press on the iTunes store! As of this writing, there are 15 weeks worth of readings awaiting your listening pleasure. But there's a limited window of time during which each new episode is available, so get them while you can. You can also subscribe to the podcast so you won't miss any new shows. Unlike other podcasts, these aren't deleted from my iTunes library after the first listen-to so whenever I really need a dose of island sunshine it's as close as my computer or iPod.
(UPDATE 01/22/2011: I received a comment from one of the producers of Aloha Shorts with the happy news that you can find ALL of the shows episodes on the Bamboo Ridge Press website! You won't be able to download them from here, but you can stream any show on demand. In her own words:

"Please let your readers know that all the past episodes are available at  Just go to "Broadcast Archives" and click on "Show More."  We're happy to warming the hearts of those on the East Coast and around the world with the humor, memories, and wisdom of Hawaii's local literature.  We're also on Facebook at  Hau'oli Makahiki Hou.  ~  Phyllis Look"

Thank you for the info, Phyllis. And a great big Aloha to all the folks on the show!
So to recap, a rainbow in your soup bowl and tales of living Aloha in your earbuds... See, winter doesn't have to be so gray.

Happy National Soup Month, Tracey! Hope the soup's on in your home, too!

What's your favorite soup? Speaking of all things Aloha, this is mine.

Serves 4 persons

1 bunch of rainbow swiss chard
3 large leeks, sliced and washed well
4 TBL unsalted butter
2 TBL olive oil
4 large Russet potatoes, about 1½ lbs (680g), peeled and sliced thinly
sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
4 cups (1L) low-salt chicken or vegetable broth, or water
¼ cup (60ml) dry sherry or dry white wine, such as Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc
2 TBL light cream (optional)
3 TBL grated Parmesan, plus extra for garnish

Wash chard well in a mixture of 2 qt/L of cool water and 2 TBL of distilled white vinegar. Rinse under cold running water and drain in a colander. Separate the stalks from the greens and trim, then dice. Reserve a small handful of diced stalk (I chose some of each color) for garnish. Shred the chard greens.

In a large Dutch oven or small soup pot, saute leeks in butter and oil over medium heat. When leeks have softened, about 10 minutes, add chard stalks, potatoes, salt, pepper and broth. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until potatoes are completely soft.

Using a hand blender or potato masher (depending on whether you want a pureed soup or a more rustic version), blend the potatoes into the broth. Add sherry, Parmesan and chard greens, and simmer 10 minutes longer. Remove from heat and add cream, if using, and correct seasoning.

Ladle in individual bowls and garnish with reserved diced chard stalks and Parmesan.

This is very filling, and we skipped the breads we would usually have with soup.
A little ironic, given my current obsession with bread-baking...


BMB: Coriander-Spiked Banana Braid

Continuing my resolution to bake bread at home more often (BMB: Bake More Bread), today we’re back to a recipe we first tried 12 years before and know we love: a banana yeast bread from the1000 Classic Recipes cookbook. I had never tried a yeast bread flavored with bananas before then — I had always thought of banana bread as a quick bread (made with baking soda, not yeast). But this lovely yeast bread is a nice change of pace for toast, French toast, and even sandwiches. It is moist, chewy, soft and mildly banana-— the banana flavor is noticeable but subtle. And the bread is really not sweet — other than a couple tablespoonsful of molasses or raw sugar, the only sweetness comes from the fruit itself. Hard to resist eating just as it is, but you can imagine how much better a PB&J would be if made with this bread, can’t you? Warm Nutella or squares of dark chocolate are absolutely heaven (Best.Breakfast.Ever.). I also like to use this for grilled cheese sandwiches, especially with an aged cheese. My dear T. has a problem with sweet breads used for savory purposes — he's surprised that he enjoys the flavor combination, but at the same time feels “repulsed” (his word) by the sweet-savory combination. He recognizes, though, that he has a problem, so that’s the first step, right? *smile*

The original recipe is spiked with cardamom instead of coriander seed, and we do like the original but I just read someone waxing poetic about the combination of bananas and coriander and wanted to see for myself. The coriander is more subtle, but both spices complement bananas well — choose your favorite! Next time I’m going to try the same combination of spices I use for my banana quick bread: cinnamon, cloves, coriander, and allspice.

This loaf came about by pure serendipity. The market where I was shopping last week had a glut of over-ripe bananas that they were selling at 3 lbs. for $1.49. They weren’t bruised or blackened, just speckled. Can you pass that up? I can’t. What isn’t used in a bread, quick bread or oatmeal in the next 2 days will be peeled and frozen for later use. I was thinking of making our usual quick bread at the time I bought the bunch, but the morning I started to bake, I remembered this long unused recipe and went digging through yet-unpacked boxes to find the right cookbook. In 4 hours the kitchen was filled with the faint aroma of yeasty bananas (good name for a rock band?).

Now if only serendipity could help me find my copy of the original Tassajara Bread Book that my SIL gave me… I know it’s around here somewhere but it’s in a box we haven’t unpacked yet.

(Adapted from 1000 Classic Recipes by Hermes House publishing)
Makes one 1lb loaf

3½ cups/1lb (455g) all-purpose flour
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp powdered coriander seed
1¼ tsp (1 packet) active dry yeast
cup liquid whey or water, warm to the touch
2 TBL (29ml or 43g) unsulphured molasses
or raw sugar (23g)(used sugar this time)
2 ripe bananas, mashed well
egg wash: 2 TBL beaten egg mixed with 2 TBL water

Combine flour, salt and coriander powder in the bowl of a stand mixer. Make a well in the center of the flour, and add the yeast. Mix together water, molasses/sugar and bananas, then add wet ingredients to the well in the bowl. Attach dough hook to stand mixer, and mix at low speed to incorporate all flour, about 1 minute.

When dough has come together, increase speed to medium high or high for 3-4 minutes, until the dough smoothes out.

Turn dough onto floured table and continue kneading by hand for 6-10 minutes or until dough is elastic and smooth. Let rest for 5 minutes under damp cloth or lightly oiled plastic film.

Divide dough into 3 equal parts. Braid dough and place on baking sheet. Cover again with lightly oiled plastic film and place in a warm spot away from drafts until well-risen, about an hour. Test for doneness by pressing gently but firmly on the top of the dough: if it springs back quickly, the dough needs more time; if the indentation remains, it’s ready to bake.

Pre-heat oven to 425F/220C.

Brush braid with egg wash. Place in middle rack of oven, and bake for 10 minutes. Lower temperature to 400F and bake 15 minutes longer, or until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped (you may want to tent with foil if you prefer a softer, lighter-colored crust). Cool on rack.

Toasted Banana Braid with Dove Dark Chocolate:
Toast bread, place 2 chocolates on bread
and return to toaster oven for 30 seconds.
Smear with knife.
Bite. Smile. Repeat.

More homemade breads


Red Wine, a Pot and TIme: Cabernet-Braised Short Ribs

It's truly amazing what time and low heat can do to hunks of meat on a bone. Not only do they tenderize, but in a slow-cooker they even caramelize fats and flesh, and intensify flavor. For the cook, beyond the initial browning much of the work is out of her hands. She's free to enjoy her day, or her guests as the case may be.

We had these for dinner on Christmas Day, a day I prefer not to cook or to cook as little as possible. We started with a breakfast of beet-pickled eggs, guava-glazed ham and breads — all prepared or purchased well in advance — for a late breakfast. A lazy day by a roaring fire followed, and an early dinner by the same fire rounded out the day. *yawn* and there was still time for a nap!

With the mushrooms cooked the day before, and the baby corn and green beans cleaned and ready to toss in a stir-fry while the rice is cooking, there was little to do or fuss about once the ribs were in the slow-cooker at 5:45am. Thirty minutes before we sat for dinner, the rice was washed and the cooker turned on (the sous chef's job); the mushrooms were re-warmed; the wok was pre-heated and veggies tossed in; the third glass of bubbly was poured for the cook; and before you know it, dinner was served. We took a vote (it was 2-0) and decided we wanted plain white rice with this, but mashed or roast potatoes, or buttered egg noodles are more traditional accompaniments.

Save your knives, you won't need them — these ribs emerge fork-tender and oh-so-succulent in their own juices. And rich, very rich. A little goes a long way.

Serves 4 persons

For the Mushrooms:
2-3 lbs of mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
(pictured here are 1 lb. cremini, 8 oz. white button, and 8 oz. oyster mushrooms sauteed together
and 1 lb king oyster mushrooms sliced lengthwise and simply browned in unsalted butter)
4 oz/ unsalted butter, sliced into small pats
2 TBL dry sherry
sea salt
black pepper (optional)

You can prepare the mushrooms in advance and keep refrigerated until 30 minutes before the ribs are cooked, then re-heat in the microwave. Or begin mushrooms half an hour before the ribs are ready.

Heatt wok or large skillet over medium high heat. Add sliced mushrooms to dry pan, and allow mushrooms to brown and exude their liquid, about 5-6 minutes. Add pats of butter and sherry to skillet and allow to coat mushrooms. Season lightly. Refrigerate until needed or proceed with recipe.

For the Braise:
5 1/2 lbs (2.5kg) beef short ribs
sea salt and black pepper
4-6 TBL olive oil, 2 TBLs at a time
2 medium onions, sliced in 1/4 inch strips
3-4 bay leaves
1 TBL black peppercorns
cloves from 1 head of garlic, peeled and halved
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 finger of ginger, peeled and sliced in 1/4 inch pieces
2 cups (474ml) Cabernet or other dry red wine
1 cup (240ml) low-salt beef broth

Trim ribs of fat and excess silverskin. Pat dry with paper towels, and season well with salt and ground pepper.

Drizzle first 2 TBL of oil on bottom of slow cooker. Add onions, bay leaves, peppercorns, garlic, carrots, parsnips and ginger. Cover, set heat setting to LOW.

Pre-heat large skillet over medium high heat, then add 2 TBL of oil. Place ribs — meat side down — in skillet, about 2-3 ribs at a time. Do not crowd the pan. Allow to brown well, about 5-7 minutes without fussing with them. When the ribs release easily from the pan, they are sufficiently browned and ready to turn. Turn each rib to brown another meaty side, and again leave for 3-4 minutes to brown new side. Repeat with third meaty side. As each rib finishes browning, remove from skillet and add to slow cooker, bone side down.

When all of the first batch of ribs is browned, add 1 cup of wine to the skillet, and using a wooden spoon, gently loosen the browned bits from skillet. Add the deglazing liquid to the slow cooker.

To brown each remaining batch of ribs, quickly rinse the skillet under cool water (no soap), dry and return skillet to medium high heat. Add another 2 TBL oil and repeat browning of ribs.

If 3 batches are required to brown all the ribs, use the beef broth to de-glaze the third batch. Otherwise, add beef broth to the slow cooker after the second batch.

Set timer for 4 hours. Come back in 4 hours and turn ribs over. Set timer again for 3 hours, and check again when timer rings. Meat should be fork tender and ready to slip off the bone; if not ready, allow to cook 40 minutes to 1 hour longer. (We prefer to keep the meat on the bone, but you can remove the bone now for easier eating — try to keep the meat from each rib in one piece.)

Also, if you intend to serve this with mashed potatoes or noodles and would like to keep the jus to serve over the potatoes, just strain the liquid and correct the seasoning — skip the reduction completely. If the strained jus is a bit salty for your taste, add 1tsp of balsamic or sherry vinegar to the jus and heat it to a simmer. Taste again to see if the balance is more to your liking (small quantities of vinegar help to reduce saltiness, and using mild ones such as balsamic or sherry tend not leave a vinegar flavor).

To reduce and glaze:
2-3 TBL balsamic vinegar
sea salt and black pepper, if necessary

Remove ribs to a platter. Strain remaining liquid into a wide sauce pan, and discard solids. Return ribs to slow cooker set on WARM, or keep warm in oven while you finish the glaze. Place saucepan on the stove over medium high heat and bring to a boil. When sauce is reduced by half, add vinegar and continue reducing until the sauce takes on a shine and just starts to become syrupy, then immediately remove from heat. Sauce will continue to thicken in the pan. Taste and correct seasoning.

To plate, place 1/4 mushrooms on individual plate. Top with 2-3 short ribs, and drizzle wine glaze over meat and mushrooms. Serve with your favorite vegetables, and mashed potatoes or buttered noodles. Or rice.


5-A-Day: Roasted Brussels Sprouts

It seems to me that many winter vegetables get a bum rap. They're hearty enough to withstand the cool to cold weather so they're either thick-skinned, thick-leafed, or buried deep in the ground. This means they often require a bit more preparation to clean, peel and cook, but the pay-off is worth the extra effort.

We love winter greens, squashes and root vegetables as much as their more highly-touted spring and summer cousins. And among the best in season now are Brussels sprouts. At this time of year they are especially sweet, whether cooked or raw. And if you are lucky enough to live near the California Monterey Coast, where you can buy whole stalks directly from the growers, or near a Trader Joe's, where you can buy really fresh sprouts still on their stalks for only $3.49, then you are in for the best treat of all: Roasted Brussels Sprouts on the stalk!

OK, so the roasting-on-the-stalk bit might be a little over-the-top, but wouldn't this be a great way to serve them for a dinner party or buffet table. (Many thanks to the Trader Joe's associate who shared the idea of roasting on the stalk.) It's quite a dramatic presentation, and each guest can cut away the sprouts directly from the stalk. But even if you remove the sprouts prior to roasting, the concentrated sweetness and tender bite of roasted Brussels sprouts will win over even the most ardent cruciferous-veggie-hater.

Whereas 2 years ago we discovered the delight of roasted Kale Crisps, this year we'll be converting friends to these sprouts. The best part for the cook is that they are unbelievably easy to do: toss in oil, lay on baking sheet, sprinkle with sea salt, roast in 350F/180C oven for 20-35 minutes, depending on the size of the sprouts. I like to leave the sprouts whole, even when they're not on the stalk, but if you elect to cut them in half, you can roast them even more quickly.

If roasting on the stalk, remember to give them a good dunk in vinegar-water solution (2 TBL vinegar for every quart/liter of water), then a rinse in clean running water and let them dry completely before roasting. I use a slightly lower oven temperature when roasting the whole stalk so the leaves don't burn before the centers cook, about 325F/170C. Lay on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, season, and roast for 40-60 minutes, rotating the stalk and turning the pan around at intervals during roasting to ensure individual sprout heads don't burn. Unlike the Kale Crisps, these sprouts should not be crunchy!

Why bother with Brussels sprouts, you ask? Because they, like most cruciferous veggies, are high in fiber and powerhouses in terms of beneficial nutrients. In study after study, cruciferous vegetables have been linked to reduced risks of heart disease and different types of cancer, including colon, lung, prostate, breast cancers. WebMD calls cruciferous vegetables the "Super Veggies."(a) We'll call them the "Super Crus." And the top 3 Super Veggies? Brussels sprouts, kale and broccoli — the Über-Super Crus! This is food as medicine at its best!

So if eating healthy or trying new foods is on your new year's resolution this year, put some or all the "Super Crus" on your must-try list — most are greens, some are root vegetables, a few (wasabi and mustard seeds) are seasoning agents: Brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli, mustard greens and seeds, horseradish, collard greens, broccoli rabe, Chinese broccoli, kohlrabi, cauliflower, bok choy, mizuna, napa cabbage, turnip root & greens, rutabaga, tatsoi, arugula, watercress, red radish, daikon, wasabi.(b)

Now, if you've read through that list and are thinking to yourself, "Ick" or if memories of sour, grey-looking vegetables filled your mind's eye and nostrils, I hear you. I really do. Often the vegetables on this list are over-cooked, and by that I mean, boiled to death. When over-cooked, they can emit a strong odor — sulphurous and heady, and pretty unpleasant all around. The odors come from the very same nutrients and phytochemicals that provide all the health-protecting properties for which the Super Crus are so touted.

The good news is that it doesn't have to be that way. Roasting, gentle steaming, pan-frying, flash-cooking are all methods that generally keep the vegetables delicious smelling and tasting. So please don't give up on Brussels sprouts or any of the Super Crus just yet. Give this or any one of the recipes below a try. And if some of these vegetables are just plain unknown to you (Choi Who?), these recipes will also provide quick, easy and tasty introductions to some of the more tender Asian greens in the family Brassicaceae.

If you enjoy South Asian flavors and really want to give Brussels sprouts a go, also try Brussels Sprouts with Coconut & Mustard Seed (2 Super Crus for the price of one, photo above).

More posts featuring cruciferous veggies:
Kale Crisps
Sesame Chinese Broccoli with Wolfberries
Greek Plasto (Greens with Cornbread Crust), the slow-cooker version and the original
Choi Sum with Spicy Garlic Sauce
Indian-spiced Daikon, Carrot & Cauliflower Pickle (another two-fer)
Tian of Roasted Potatoes & Chinese Mustard Greens
Roasted Belgian Endive
Purple & Squeak (Red Cabbage & Okinawan Sweet Potatoes — it's very purple)
Warm Spiced Cabbage Salad (with or without the fish)
Greens & Cheese Pie
Flash-Cooked Watercress
Garlic Braised Chinese Mustard Greens
Aloo Gobi (Potatoes & Cauliflower)
Namasu (Daikon, Cucumber and Wakame Salad)
Sauerkraut Soup

(a), "The Super-Veggies: Cruciferous Vegetables," by Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
(b), "Taxonomy of Common Cruciferous Vegetables"


BMB (Bake More Bread): Oatmeal Loaf

One lucky side effect of my new year's resolution to bake bread at home may be that it will also help me stay in better shape, too. That's some workout — kneading dough by hand, or is that just that I'm in such BAD shape now that I'm getting winded by 15 minutes of hand kneading a one pound lump of dough....hmmmm, will think on that some more.

So, the actual resolution was to bake bread twice a month. The Anadama loaves have been completely dispatched, so as I prepared my weekly shopping list yesterday I started to put sandwich bread on the list and then thought, But why? Why not just bake one? Why not, indeed. This loaf will fill January's quota for bread-baking, but Loaf #3 is already proofing, and the sourdough starter is on Day Five of its journey to becoming a fully blossomed baking leavener, so you know something has to be made with that the day after tomorrow. And we're still in the first week of the year!

I still don't have any bread flour (put THAT on the shopping list) so last night I started a dough for Oatmeal Bread using the last of our all-purpose flour instead of the bread flour the recipe specified. And speaking of sourdough starter, as you probably know sourdough is a living thing that has to be fed. And during its infancy it has to be fed and "changed" (excess fermented dough removed) daily. Instead of throwing out the 120g of fermented dough I removed from the sourdough yesterday, I added that to the Oatmeal Bread dough for good measure (in addition to yeast, not to substitute for it). Again, the dough did a slow rise overnight in a fridge-temperature environment (read: the unheated, uninsulated three-seasons room), and I proofed and baked in the morning. Unfortunately, too late for T. to try a slice before he had to catch his train (Sorry, Honey...).

With the substitutions I had made (especially the flour substitution), the final dough was quite stiff even after 4 minutes on the dough hook and 15 minutes of kneading by hand. I probably could have added back all the liquid I took out to compensate for the runny sourdough cast-off (and then some). After baking, we got a nice firm, dense loaf with a thick dark crust. The texture and color of the crust might be a function of the pan I use, which is a stoneware loaf pan. I ate the first slice with nothing more than a few slices of avocado dusted with sea salt and a few twists of black pepper. Scrumptious breakfast! It does have a noticeable tang which I attribute to the sourdough bit.

The bread is much denser than we prefer for a sandwich bread, but it would be perfect to accompany a soup or stew, or in thick slabs as toast, which is how we will probably finish this off. With gobs of unsalted butter and raspberry jam. Or almond butter. Or spinach dip. Or French toast?....

Hope you're all baking bread out there, too. The Bake More Bread (BMB) posts will all be in the Breadbasket section of the recipe files (woo hoo, we're up to 3 breads now!)... Next bread up: Coriander-spiked Banana Braid

(Heavily adapted from the King Arthur Flour recipe)
Makes one 1-lb. loaf

1¼ tsp or 1 packet active dry yeast
10oz (296ml) milk, just warm to the touch
12¾oz (362g) all-purpose flour
3½oz (100g) rolled oats (old-fashioned oats)
1½ tsp salt
1oz (28g) unsalted butter
3 TBL (38g) raw sugar
** I used 9 oz of milk and 120g sourdough starter cast-off only because it was there, but if I dare to use cast-off starter again I would keep the full amount of 10oz milk next time

Sprinkle yeast over milk and stir to dissolve.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine flour, oats and salt and stir well to mix. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add butter and sugar, then pour in yeast mixture.

Attach dough hook to mixer, and start on lowest setting to incorporate flour. When threat of flying flour has passed, increase speed to medium high or high, and allow to knead until dough starts to smooth out.

Turn out onto floured table and knead for 10-15 minutes or until dough is elastic and smooth. Bring ends of dough to center to form a ball. Lightly oil a deep bowl and place dough in center. Cover bowl with lightly oiled plastic film and let rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size. Alternatively, if you want fresh baked bread for breakfast, place bowl in fridge for slower rise, and allow to come back to room temperature in the morning after punching down.

Preheat oven to 350F/180C.

When bread has doubled, punch down then let rest about 15 minutes under a damp cloth or the oiled plastic film. Roll dough into a log and bring ends of log to center and place in loaf pan. Cover pan with oiled plastic film and allow to proof until a firm press on the dough's surface does not spring back quickly, about 30-45 minutes depending on your room temperature. The recipe directions said to watch for the dough to rise 1" above the pan rim, but this dough passed the "touch test" before it was 1" over the rim so I put it in the oven when it passed the touch test. I did not want to "over-proof" the dough which simply means the dough has lost its rising power and will collapse when exposed to heat.

Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with rolled oats — it looks pretty.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow, or (and this was new to me) until an instant read thermometer registers 190F. I tried this with my analog instant read thermometer, but it's not very reliable so I still went with the tried-and-true bottom-thumping method to gauge when to remove the loaf. Cool loaf on rack before slicing. (I can never wait that long, but maybe you're more patient!)


New Year's Resolution: Bake More Bread - Anadama Bread

You wouldn't know it by the scant number of entries under "Breadbasket" in the recipe index on this site (a grand total of 1 before today), but I do love homemade bread. Adore it, in fact. Just don't get around to making it very often. A sad testament to this fact: when I started this loaf yesterday afternoon, I realized half way through making the dough that the yeast I had in the fridge was past its 'Use By' date. By 7 months. Had to make a mad dash to the market in the middle of a recipe. Hate that. But it was worth it in the end, as this morning the kitchen is filled with the aroma of molasses and yeast, and what could be better than that?! Only the ham sandwich I'm now munching on as I edit photos and type. *nom, nom, nom....*

This resolve to bake more bread dovetails nicely with the glut of whey I anticipate having as a result of swearing off store-bought fresh curds such as cottage cheese and ricotta and making my own. Two days ago I made my first fresh cheese and after researching uses for liquid whey on the InterWebs, decided bread-making would definitely be one of the primary uses for the whey we will have after cheese-making. From that first effort, we ended up with 500 ml or about a half-quart of liquid whey. I haven't tried this, but saw on several baking forums that liquid whey can be frozen to be used for baking later.

As Serious Eats and Kenji Lopez-Alt was my inspiration for making fresh cheese, Sue at Know Whey is my inspiration for including bread baking one of my resolutions for this year. Sue is a cheese maker and bread baker living in Vermont, and she promotes both avocations beautifully on her site. I was completely entranced by her photos of her Anadama bread which is usually baked in a loaf pan. But Sue freed her loaves from the tin and baked them as batards — a French loaf style that is more elliptical in shape than its cousin the baguette. I wanted my bread to look like that too! I had to adapt Sue's recipe to work without a sourdough starter, but kept the loaf shape.

Reading through many other recipes for Anadama — which usually include cornmeal and molasses, I was reminded of two things: Indian pudding and the canned brown bread that I remember eating with Boston baked beans — both also have that delicious molasses smell and a smidge of cornmeal. I don't know for sure, but I would guess that Anadama and brown bread are somehow related or one was adapted from the other. Anyway, I think Anadama would also make a perfect accompaniment to New England style baked beans — the savory molasses flavor in the bread mirrors the sweeter molasses in the baked beans.

The 2 loaves I ended up with were only 12" or so long (so, mini batards), and I definitely need a better slashing tool to get deeper slashes on my bread. But the texture of the bread was wonderful — close crumb, moist and chewy. And the aroma of molasses belies the fact that the bread is not at all sweet. I was surprised that it is actually a bit tangy — I'm attributing this to the substitution of whey for water since I did not use a sourdough starter this time ('cause mine's not ready yet). The first rise on this dough took a very long while. I can only guess that the cool house (we keep it around 68F deg. in winter) contributed to this, but long slow rises are supposed to help develop both flavor and texture so I didn't want to do anything to speed up the rising time. In fact, since it did take much longer than I anticipated and I was getting sleepy, we ended up putting the dough in an even colder place to further retard the rise so that I could wait to bake it the next morning, which is today. So after a few hurry-up-and-take-the-shot-cuz-I-want-to-eat-warm-bread photos, I scarfed the first end piece with gobs of unsalted butter, then set about building a sandwich with guava-glazed ham left from Christmas morning. I'm so happy, I had to share right away...

Sue is also a sourdough advocate, and offers a primer on making and feeding sourdough starters. I've tried making sourdough starters before without great success, but I'm willing to give it another go, and began a starter yesterday, too. More on that to follow...

Thank you, Sue, for the lovely inspiration in the new year.

UPDATE 01/17/2011: And to really get back into the swing of things, we're sending this molasses cornmeal bread out to Heather, aka Dar, at Girlichef, this month's host for the long-running bread-baker's event, Bread-Baking Day, created by our dear Zorra of 1x Umrühren Bitte. The theme for this month's event — the 36th in the series! — is Corn-y Breads.. The deadline for submitting your bread-baking efforts to this event (remember, it has to feature corn in some form) is February 1st, so get baking and let's fill up Heather's breadbasket!! Can't wait to see this round-up for more inspiration to help me keep my new year's resolution.

What is your resolution for 2011? Hope it involves family and the kitchen! Happy Baking, Everyone!

(Adapted from Anadama Batards on Know Whey)
Makes 2 12" loaves

3/4 cup (177ml) liquid whey (or water)
1/2 cup (85g) yellow corn meal, plus extra for baking sheet
3 TBL (44g) unsalted butter
2 tsp (10g) sea salt
1/4 cup (60ml or 88g) unsulphured (aka blackstrap) molasses
2 ½ tsp. active dry yeast (2 packets)
3/4 cup (177ml) liquid whey
2 cups (200g) (divided) all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
1½ cup (195g) whole wheat flour

Attach dough hook to stand mixer.

Put liquid whey in glass container and heat for 1-½ minutes on HIGH in microwave to bring to simmer. Combine liquid whey and corn meal in the bottom of mixer bowl, and stir together well with a spatula or wood spoon. Will be a thick paste. Immediately add butter, salt and molasses and stir again in to combine.

Attach bowl to mixer. Add second measure of liquid whey and first cup of all-purpose flour. Stir together with dough hook until flour is fully incorporated, about 2 minutes on the dough hook. Add yeast, all whole wheat flour, and about ½ cup of remaining all-purpose flour and mix together about 4 minutes at medium speed until the dough is elastic. I had to pause and scrape down the sides at least twice to incorporate all the flour. If the dough appears very sticky (does not begin to pull away from the sides), add the last ½ cup all-purpose flour and more if needed — enough to make a firm dough. Continue mixing with dough hook until flour is well-incorporated, about 3-4 minutes.

Turn dough out on to well-floured board or table. Knead by hand for about 10 minutes.

Prepare large glass bowl by wiping with a well-oiled paper towel. Oil large square of plastic film (to cover bowl while dough rises).

Bring kneaded dough into a ball by bringing all ends to the middle underneath the dough until a smooth ball forms. Toss the dough ball gently in the oiled bowl to cover dough with light film of oil. Cover bowl with plastic film and set aside to rise until doubled in size.

Rise should normally take 90 minutes to a couple of hours, but mine had not quite doubled after 4 hours and I was ready for bed, so I put in an unheated room that was registering about 42F degrees. [When I woke up (6 ½ hour later), I punched down the dough (keep the film) and gently kneaded it on the table again 5-6 times, then let it rest for 10 minutes under a damp cloth.]

While the dough is resting, sprinkle a baking sheet with cornmeal and prepare an egg wash: beat an egg and remove a tablespoon into a small bowl — keep the remaining egg for breakfast. Add a teaspoon of water to the tablespoonful of egg and beat well.

After its power nap, cut the dough in two with a dough scraper, then shape them into elliptical loaves. Place loaves on baking sheet, sprinkle with corn meal from at least 12” above the dough (this will help evenly distribute the corn meal into a fine dusting). Cover with film and let rest until the dough is fully risen. Test by gently but firmly pressing the top of the loaf — if the indentation remains, it is ready to bake; if it springs back, it needs more time. It took almost an hour before my loaves were ready to bake, but start checking after 30 minutes.

Pre-heat oven to 400F/200C after 30 minutes of proofing. Place rack in middle of oven.

Brush loaves with egg wash, then slash about ½” deep with extra sharp razor. (Note to self: look for extra-sharp razor — I “slashed” with a regular chef’s knife that was not nearly as sharp as it needed to be and sort of pulled the dough as it cut. My slashes were also rather timid, about 1/4” deep.) Sprinkle with more corn meal and flour, if desired.

Place loaves on rack and bake 15 minutes.

Turn oven down to 375F/190C. Turn baking sheet around. Bake another 15 minutes and check for doneness. Test: lift loaf with oven mitts or kitchen towel, and turn over. Knock on bottom of loaf and listen for dull, hollow thump that signals bread is done. My loaves were ready after 17 minutes. Cool on rack.

I couldn't wait until the loaves cooled completely and started slicing while the first loaf was still warm, which is why the bread did not slice cleanly. But the pay-off of eating warm bread with butter was so-o worth the ruined photo...

Bread was absolutely divine with just unsalted butter. But here’s my ham sandwich flanked with Trader Joe’s New Zealand grass-fed cheddar and bread ‘n’ butter pickles homemade by my neighbor, Barb. Also known as this morning's breakfast — the sandwich, not the neighbor....

For more in the "Bake More Bread" series — my resolution to bake more bread at home this year — check our the Breadbasket archive, including a lovely Banana Yeast Braid.