Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Saltines and Sardines: Memories of my Grandfather

My grandfather was simple high-school educated Michigan farm boy who would later go to work as a Senior Engineer for American Motors, working on cars like the Javelin, Pacer and the Gremlin. He loved to try to invent a better mouse trap and was constantly found in his workshop taking apart regular household items and improving their function. My family tells me I inherited his engineering skills and his internal drive to always make things better or at least tinker with them just a bit, thus my need to mess with any recipe I bake. I was his first grandchild and he and I have always been close to him, no matter the physical distance that separated us. We always talked on the phone at least once a week and when ever I was contemplating a career move, I would call him to discuss the pros and cons.

One of my fondest memories as a little girl was fishing with my grandfather. I was his little fisher-woman and when I was visiting his house, if you wanted to find us all you had to do was look down to the lake. There we would be, on the dock, in the johnny-boat (a flat bottomed row boat good for fishing), or if we wanted to get way out into the lake to where the "big ones were", the speed boat. Even in the winter we could be found out on the frozen lake fishing, either sitting on buckets just in front of where the dock was during the summer or further out over deeper water in his ice shanty.

My grandfather wasn't a gourmand by any stretch of the imagination but he did introduce me to a snack that I relish to this day; sardines on saltine crackers. When I was very little girl, I remember him sitting me on the counter in the kitchen when he would come home from work and watching him open a can of sardines. He would put one fish without the head on cracker because I thought the heads were icky, and hand me my snack. "Here, eat this. It will put hair on your chest", he would always tell me with a twinkle in his eyes. I would laugh and squeal about being a girl. He would tease me back about eating sardines with no heads.

Any time we went fishing, along with tackle boxes, rods and reels, he would bring a thermos of coffee and a wicker basket with three cans of sardines, a box of saltines and two apples. As soon as we got the bait on the hooks, the lines in the water and had finished enjoying the scenery he would reach into the hamper and start making sardine sandwiches for us to share for lunch. We would munch on the sardine cracker sandwiches, tell each other corny jokes and wait for the fish to bite. Sometimes they would and sometimes they wouldn't but that didn't matter, we were having fun together.

My grandfather passed away this week on Monday at the ripe old age of 92. He was lucky to have been good health all the way up to the end of his life and he died surrounded by his children, his beloved lake nearby. I have been blessed to have spent over forty years with him and, when I fly home later today to attend the celebration of a long and well lived, well loved life, in my carry-on bag will be a can of sardines and a package of saltines...

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Daring Bakers Take on a Classic and Serve it With a Twist

Bartender, I'd like a Bostini....Shaken not stirred and easy on the chocolate!! Oh, and can I have a dash of World Series Champion Boston Red Sox with that?

How appropriate that this month's Daring Baker Challenge is a riff on the classic dessert Boston Cream Pie and the day we are filling the blogosphere with more calories than you can shake a whisk at is the day after the Red Sox sweep the World Series??!! Can you say WHOO-HOOO, GO SOX!!!!

Anyways, back to layers of light orange flavoured chiffon cake, rich vanilla cream and chocolate.

This month's challenge was the brainchild of Mary the keeper of not only the fantabulous blog, Alpineberry but the private Daring Baker Blog as well. She's one busy gal but that doesn't stop her from introducing the guys and gals who are the Daring Bakers to this taste explosion that is her favourite restaurant dessert, the Bostini Cream Pie.

Before we discuss the finer points of the Bostini and the assembly there of, I think we should explore a little Boston Cream Pie History. The Boston Cream Pie was created in the kitchens of the Boston Parker House Hotel by French chef M. Sanzian and has been the hotel's signature dessert since 1856. There must have been some good ju-ju in that kitchen because along with Boston Cream Pie, the kitchens of the Parker House have also given the culinary world Boston Scrod and the namesake Parker House Roll. Having partaken of Boston Cream Pie at the Parker House many times, I was excited to try Mary's Bostini. Besides, any dessert that combines chiffon cake, custard and chocolate pretty much sums up my idea of a sweet heaven.

Mary gave us the creative option presenting the Bostini in any shape or style we chose, the only caveat being that there had to be cake and custard layered with chocolate on top. Being a big fan of a classic James Bond martini served to me preferably by a bartender who looks like Sean Connery or Pierce Brosnan, I chose to serve mine in a martini glass with two layers of cake and custard and healthy dollop of chocolate sauce on top.

To create this attractive presentation, first I made the orange flavoured chiffon cake. The recipe for this cake is probably the best chiffon cake recipe I've ever made. It was light and fluffy and tasted like a dream with a fine crumb. The key here was the gentle but complete folding of the egg whites into the batter.

Since I knew I was going to be cutting different sized round layers to fit the taper of the martini glass I was using to serve the Bostini Cream Pie, I baked two 9 x 9 square cakes, let them cool, cut them into layers, and then cut out my round circles from a pattern I made of the martini class (OK, engineering nerd moment here, I used a compass on a sheet of wax paper and micrometer to measure the size circles I needed).

While the cakes were cooling, I made the other absolute keeper recipe from this challenge, the custard. I am not kidding you, this custard is about the best tasting custard I have ever made. It doesn't set up solid but if you are looking for a custard for desserts like trifle, this is your custard!

Once the custard was finished and had cooled a bit, it was time to assemble my Bostini Cream Pie.

First I put a small dollop of custard in each of the martini glasses

Then I added a layer of the cake and on a whim (and slightly going out of bounds of the Daring Baker rules...forgive me brothers and sisters, I just couldn't help myself!) I drizzled a little bit of Grand Marnier on the layer to compliment the orange flavour of the chiffon cake.

Then another layer of custard and another layer of cake

Then I put the cake and custard filled martini glasses in the fridge for a few hours because I was going to finish the Bostini when I served them as a special dessert for my first dinner party where my guests would be my trainer C and her roomate K!

After a good dinner with great conversation and wine, I pulled the martini glasses out of the fridge, made the chocolate topping and with a little help from C, who held up the white napkin so you couldn't see the dirty dishes on the counter, topped the Bostini Cream Pie.

Judging from the empty glasses that came back to the kitchen, I'd say Mary has a good reason to have the Bostini Cream Pie as her favourite dessert. I know, because it became one of mine.

Now to see how the rest of the Daring Bakers fared this month, go check here to find links to all their blogs and if you want to make this creation at home for yourself, you can go check out the recipe on Mary's post here!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Cup Cake Hero: Cloves, the Spice That Says Fall!

Two months ago, Laurie at Quirky Cupcake started a really too fun blogging event called, Cup Cake Hero for all of us big kids at heart to celebrate that little bite sized morsel of large sized taste, the cup cake. Each month Laurie picks a theme ingredient that must be used in the cake, the filling or the frosting. Laurie then picks a winner and awards them not only a really cool t-shirt but also the bragging rights of being a Cup Cake Hero!

This month, Laurie is sharing hosting duties with Stefani over at Cupcake Project and they chose one of my all time favourite spices as the ingredient for October, cloves! As soon Laurie and Stefani announced the ingredient, I knew exactly what I was going to bake to try and win me the title Cup Cake Hero, my grandmother's oatmeal spice cake with penuche frosting.

Oatmeal spice cake is an old fashioned New England classic that you don't find baked all that often anymore. Full of hearty spices, what separates this cake from other spice cakes is the cooked oatmeal that is added to the cake batter. The oatmeal makes the cake moist and most amazingly light. Penuche was the original flavour for fudge and originated in New England. Since my grandmother was born and raised outside of Boston, she brought this recipe for frosting with her when she moved to Michigan to marry my grandfather. Penuche is made by caramelizing brown sugar and adding milk and vanilla only. It has a flavour reminiscent to maple syrup and now in New England, you often find penuche made with maple syrup in addition to brown sugar. When you eat a slice of oatmeal spice cake with the penuche frosting, it is like eating a mouth full of the classic New England fall; complete with brilliant yellow, orange and red leaves and the crisp apple scented air!

Now on to my story of making my Cup Cake Hero entry (with apologies to the band Foreigner for improving their hit song "Jukebox Hero")

As soon as I got home from work the day Laurie and Stephani announced the theme, I opened my recipe box to pull out the stained index card my grandmother had written her cake recipe on (there really is no recipe for the penuche frosting she used, you just watched her make it and learned the recipe) and then scurried to my pantry to pull out all the ingredients and stopped dead in my tracks in horror...I was out of cloves!!! So off to the Super Stop and Shop I went to pick up the cloves and something quick for dinner because after all, I had some serious baking to do. If only it was going to be that easy...
"Standing in the store, with my head hung low
Couldn't get the ingredient, they were sold out of cloves
Heard the roar of the PA, and could picture the scene
The guy I sent to the back, just about to scream..."

I ask you, what store runs out of cloves??!! Seriously, was everyone in Connecticut cooking with cloves? Was there a special on ham that week?? DID SOMEONE STEAL MY CUPCAKE IDEA??!!! Thankfully, this little tale has a happy ending. After about ten minutes, the guy came back with little box full of jars of cloves. Pscheewww.... wiping a bead of sweat from my brow, I headed home to start making cupcakes!!
"That one jar of cloves, felt good in my hands
Didn't take long, to mix and blend..."

This recipe comes together so quickly and easily. Making the oatmeal the old fashioned way with rolled oats takes longer than assembling the rest of the batter. That is until I discovered a few years ago that using quick cooking oats works as well as the rolled oats my grandmother's recipe calls for but takes less than 5 minutes to get to the right consistency; especially if you pour the boiling water over the oats, give them a quick stir and then set them aside while you make the rest of the batter. All in all, it takes about fifteen minutes of active time before you are ready to pop the cupcakes in the oven to bake. An added benefit of these little gems is that while they are baking your kitchen and any connected room smells yummy with the scent of the cinnamon and cloves.
"In the oven by the window, in a heavy downpour
Thought I smelled heaven, when I opened the door"

Once the cupcakes are out of the oven and on the cooling rack, you make the frosting. This step is actually more time consuming than making the batter because the penuche frosting I use is an old fashioned boiled frosting. The key to a good boiled frosting is low to medium temperature and constant stirring while the milk, granulated or brown sugar and butter come to a boil before you add the rest of the liquid and confectioner's sugar.
"Now I need to keep stirrin'
I just can't stop
Gotta keep on stirrin'
Penuche's got to get on top.
So I can be a cup cake hero, got sugar in my eyes..."

You also have to let boiled frostings cool about 10 to 20 minutes before you can use them to frost a cake. With my grandmother's penuche frosting, I like to let it almost set up then give it a quick one to two minute beating with an electric mixer. It makes it fluffy and spreadable. I like to schmeer a generous amount of frosting on top of my cupcakes and then finish them with a little accent of something fun. For the penuche frosting, it was a little sprinkling of chopped walnuts on top.

And there you have it, my entry for this month's Cup Cake Hero, Oatmeal Spice Cupcakes with Penuche Frosting!
"So I can be a Cup Cake Hero, got sugar in my eyes
I'm a Cup Cake Hero, Took one ingredient to put stars in my eyes..."

Oatmeal Spice Cupcakes with Penuche Frosting

Oatmeal Spice Cupcakes:
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1 cup quick cook oats
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinmamon
1/2 nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Prepare a 12 muffin pan with papers, grease papers and set aside. Pour boiling water over oats, mix and set aside. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves into a medium bowl and set aside. In a large mixer bowl with a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat butter until light and fluffy. Add sugars and mix to combined. Reduce speed and add eggs one at time, mixing until combined and add vanilla. Add oat mixture slowly and then add flour mixture and mix until combined completely.

Fill prepared muffin papers 3/4 full and bake 15 - 17 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Penuche Frosting:
6 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp milk (whole or 2%)
1 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup very finely ground pecans or walnuts plus extra for topping the frosted cupcakes

In small saucepan melt the butter over medium low heat. Add the brown sugar and stir until melted and blended with the butter. Slowly pour in the milk, mix well and bring mixture to a boil. Scrape mixture into a medium bowl and let cool 10 minutes. Add the confectioners sugar and vanilla and beat with mixer until smooth. Mix in nuts. Let cool until spreading consistency and frost cupcakes.

Top cupcakes with sprinkling of nuts

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Retro Recipe Challenge #9: The Candy Man

When Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity announced her theme of candy as host of Laura Rebecca's Retro Recipe Challenge for October and posted the picture of Sammy Davis Jr to go along with it,

I had no choice but mark the due date on my calendar....and promptly get stupidly busy with work and planning my little get away with my sisters, Lisa and Helen. I mean after all...Sammy Davis Jr. IS the Candy Man and nothing says candy like fudge!!!

I spent my entire childhood surrounded by fudge as the area of Mackinac Island in Northern Michigan probably have more fudge shops than any other place in America. Heck, we even call the tourists "Fudgies" because they tend to wander around between the souvenir shops with at least one box of fudge in tow.

When Christmas comes around I always include fudge in my cookie platters and the recipe I use is probably the most famous homemade fudge recipe anywhere, the recipe for "Never Fail Fudge" found on the back of the jar of marshmallow creme best embodied by the classic Massachusetts brand, Fluff. This recipe has been around since the middle 1950's and was originally called "Mamie Eisenhower Fudge", as this was served at the end of every White House meal during the Eisenhower administration. The main ingredients are a jar of Fluff, 1/2 a stick of butter, sugar, chocolate chips, evaporated milk, and some nuts if you like.

This recipe is about as simple as can be, takes less than 15 minutes to make and results in a fantastically creamy fudge.

Heavy on the sugar but full of good chocolate flavour, it doesn't get any better than this...except maybe on Mackinac Island.

No Fail Fudge (or Mamie Eisenhower Fudge)

2 1/2 cup sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) of butter (If you use salted butter, don't add the 3/4 tsp salt)
3/4 cup evaporated milk
1 jar (7 1/2oz) of marshmallow creme
3/4 tsp vanilla
1 12oz package semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Line a 9 inch square pan with 2 pieces of foil so the edges of the foil hang over the sides (makes it easy to remove the fudge from the pan to cut). Grease and set aside. In a large sauce pan combine the sugar, salt, butter, evaporated milk and marshmallow creme and stir over low heat until blended. Heat to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add chocolate chips and vanilla (careful, if you add vanilla first the hot sugar mixture will sputter), stirring until chocolate is melted. Add nuts if using. Turn mixture into greased pan and cool until fudge is solid, typically 4 - 6 hours in the fridge.

To cut the fudge into square, remove from the pan and let sit on the counter for about 30 minutes. Use sharp knife and cut into 1" squares. Makes about 2 1/2 pounds.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Home Again, Home Again Hippity Hop

I've returned home after what can only be described as one of the best weekends I've ever had with two of the damn funniest and smartest women I've ever had the pleasure of hanging out with, Lisa and Helen. To say we baked, ate, laughed, and drank our way across Cleveland would be an understatement and I've got so many things to post about that it will probably take a month to get them all out of my head onto this page. Let's just say it sure wasn't a low calorie weekend...

Even though I had a blast with the girls (did I mention the drinking and giggling?), it was good to be home. Especially when you have this to greet you when walk through the door:

He was excited to see me as you can see...

When I woke up this morning it was strange to not walk out into Lisa's gorgeous kitchen and be greeted with a fantastic pot of coffee courtesy of Helen (boy can that girl make coffee!!) and there are a ton of emails to answer, a few new recipes to try, and heck, there is even another "Ask Breadchick" coming up fast and furious; not to mention we are in the home stretch of the month which means that zany group of bakers are probably going to have something huge to post about.

OH, OH, OH and I almost forgot there is an event I just have to participate in because I'm going to be a Cup Cake Hero (just hum that to the tune of "Jukebox Hero"...)

Speaking of heroes, Moon over at Marathon Moon has been doing a fantastic job all year getting herself into shape to run the Walt Disney Marathon. She has also done a fantastic job taking one of my favourite recipes and making it healthier! I've always wanted to take my Harvest Apple Bread and lighten up the recipe. Now, I don't have to. Thanks Moon and good luck in the marathon!

So, while I unpack, do the laundry and get back on my diet and back into the gym, you should get into your kitchen and bake something...

Like Moon's Whole Wheat Apple Bread!!!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Cleveland Rocks!!

There is a scene in my favourite movie of all time This is Spinal Tap where the boys are wandering around under the stage at the venue they are playing at; lost and trying to find their way out to the stage. While they are lost, the usual state of affairs for them, they keep screaming "Hello Cleveland!" to each other to keep up the pre-show energy but each yell gets less and less enthusiastic. Typical Spinal Tap inanity...

It just so happens I'm winging my way to Cleveland today to spend a weekend drinking, eating, baking, shopping and laughing with two fellow Tap fans and Daring Baker Sisters; the incredible Helen at Tartlette (she got my quote about amps being at 11 from an earlier post) and the fabulous Lisa from La Mia Cucina (she named her dog Nigel after Tap lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel!) Lisa and her hubs are hosting us and I can't wait to sit in her lovely kitchen sharing a bottle of wine and some of the incredible home cooking Lisa is famous for!!

So, look for some pretty insane posts next week on our blogs and until next week...


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Quick Bread Week: Bun Master Pumpkin Bread or Why Lunges Are Now My Favourite Exercise

One of the sure ways I know that fall is really and truly here is when purple cabbage, maroon mums and pumpkins start popping up on the front porches of my neighbors. Even though the weather sure has felt like summer the past two weeks, if the next door neighbor's porch is any indication, fall is really and truly here.

Another way I know that fall is here is I start thinking about all the wonderful things I can make with pumpkin: pumpkin tarts, toasted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin and ginger bisque, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake bites, and my mother's wonderful pumpkin roll. Funny thing is, one of the foods I never really have liked is pumpkin bread. Every recipe I've ever made or loaf I've ever tasted is heavy, bland, or worse full of stringy pumpkin. Basically, I had given up on pumpkin bread and relegated pumpkin bread to the same culinary purgatory I reserve for zucchini bread and until recently, capers. I turned my nose up at it and refused all offers of pumpkin bread with a polite no thank you.

About a week ago, I stopped by my gym to move a personal training appointment from one week to another. I was feeling less than motivated about going to the gym and needed an extra work out to get my head (and my arse) back in the game. My totally awesome trainer, C was standing at the counter when I walked in and after we chatted a bit, she offered me a piece of pumpkin bread she had baked and brought in to share with the rest of the girls who work at the club. I almost said no and was ready to explain why I didn't like pumpkin bread but decided there wasn't any way I could gracefully say no without hurting her feelings or insulting her so badly that she would make me pay with four sets of those awful twisty things with the medicine ball I hate so much. So, wanting to save myself the agony of the next morning, I said yes and prepared myself to nibble a bit, gracefully exit and throw out the slice when I got home.

After slicing me a piece, she handed it to me and without realizing I was in "food critic mode", I immediately poked at it to see if it was moist and springy or heavy and dense. I then sniffed at it to see if there were any spices in the bread. Since C and I talk a lot about food and cooking while she is mean guiding me during my work out, C stood there chatting about the recipe, how she makes it and about the toasted pumpkin seeds she had added for the first time.

I took a nibble and was extremely surprised! This wasn't the typical pumpkin bread I had denigrated for so many years. This was a light, moist, full of the same spices that make pumpkin pie one of my favourite pies any time of the year. I was so amazed at how tasty the bread was that I had to have the recipe. Luckily, all it took to pry this gem of a recipe out of C was to ask!

Phew.... I was pretty sure she was going to make me do an extra set of squats...

C's Stupendously Moist and Light Pumpkin Bread

Dry Ingredients:
1 1/2 c Flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c white sugar
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. clove (optional)

Wet Ingredients:
1 c. pumpkin puree (make sure this pumpkin only, not pumpkin pie filling)
1/2 c vegetable oil
2 eggs
1/4 c water

Preheat the oven at 350 degrees. Lightly butter either two small (8 x 4) loaf pans or one large (9 x 5) loaf pan(s). Set aside. Mix dry and wet ingredients together to just to blended state. Bake for 40 - 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 - 10 minutes. Remove from the pan to finish cooling.

Some ideas for yummy things to add to the pumpkin bread:

C has added pumpkin seeds within the mixture and on top for some texture as well as mixed cinnamon, sugar and nutmeg and sprinkled on top after 10 minutes of baking.

When I made the two loaves I made into the office today, I added 1/4 tsp of ginger and 1 cup of walnuts. I also frosted one loaf with cream cheese frosting (leaving the other one naked for folks who wanted a healthier options). I think the two loaves were demolished by the office staff in a new land speed record; including one of the founders of the company who came into my office with cream cheese frosting on his chin and gave me a thumbs up all the while going Mmmmm Mmmmm Mmmmm.

Thanks C for a keeper recipe!!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Quick Bread Week: A Masterful Recipe for World Bread Day 2007

Today is the second annual World Bread Day as hosted by Zorra over at 1x umruhren bitte.

Last year there were over 100 bread bakers who participated in the event and breads ranged from classic baguettes and boules to local specialties. Yours truly here made a crusty boule after a visit to the King Arthur Flour mothership in Norwich, VT.

This year in honor of World Bread Day and continuing with this week's theme at The Sour Dough, Quick Bread Week, I'm going to share with you my master quick bread recipe in the form of Chocolate and Michigan Cherry Quick Bread.

All good home bakers have master recipes they use time and time again as the starting point for various baked goodies. What sets "master recipes" apart from normal recipes are master recipes are basic foundation recipes. For example, the basic sugar cookie recipe to which you can add chocolates, fruit and nuts to equal yummy variants of cookies. Typical baking master recipes include the aforementioned sugar cookie recipe, a good recipe for a basic yeast roll to which you can add seeds or savories to create variety, and a basic muffin/quick bread recipe.

One of the very first recipes I learned by heart was my grandmother's master muffin recipe. It was easy to remember because everything in was divisible by 2; 2 eggs, 2 cups of flour, 1/2 cup of oil, 1/2 tsp of baking powder, 1/2 tsp of baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 brown sugar, and a 1/2 cup milk and 1/2 cup heavy cream. To this master recipe she added wild blueberries picked in the back yard during the late summer and raisins and spice during Thanksgiving and Christmas time. I remember waking up to the smell of her muffins baking in the early morning before we would leave to go back home and then sitting in the back seat of the car with them in my lap until we saw the last light of Cadillac fade in the rear view mirror and then my brother and I would dig into the still warm muffins.

My mother's master muffin/quick bread recipe was from the Betty Crocker Cookbook released in the late 1960's. This recipe called for 1 egg, 3/4 cup milk, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 2 cups flour, 1/3 cup sugar, 3 tsp baking powder, and 1 tsp salt. From this recipe you could make everything from super sweet Apple Nut Muffins to the savory Rye Muffins. My favourite variety my mom would make was the "French Puff", which called for rolling the top of the just out of the oven muffins in melted butter or margarine and then dipping them in a cinnamon and sugar mixture. My mom's twist on these muffins was to add a bit of nutmeg to the batter. Every time I'm home for a long weekend, I ask her to make these for me (along with her chocolate waffles!)

The first "celebrity chef" cookbook I purchased was Christopher Kimball's The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook. I love how this cookbook is a combination of the well tested America's Test Kitchen recipes and Kimball's monthly Cook's Illustrated editor's columns with plenty of crusty New Englander tales alongside the solid recipes for basic country fare. The master recipe published is closer to my grandmother's recipe than the recipe my mother uses but calls for buttermilk; resulting in a zippy bread or muffin that needs "strong ingredients" according to Kimball to stand up to the buttermilk. What I like about this recipe versus both the recipe my mother uses and my grandmother taught me is it calls for less leavening agent than my mother's recipe; sometimes her recipe can leave a metallic taste when combined with some ingredients, a by product of the 3 tsp of baking powder, and less oil than my grandmother's meaning a lighter texture. But, I have to admit to not caring for the buttermilk unless I'm making a savory bread or muffin. I like the things I add to my master muffin/quick bread recipe to shine and not the base batter.

So, a few years ago, I took all three recipes and borrowed what I liked in each and came up with my own master muffin/quick bread recipe.

Breadchick's Muffin/Quick Bread Master Recipe

Makes 12 muffins or one (1) 9 x 5 loaf of bread

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick (8 tsp) unsalted butter, softened
1 egg plus 1 egg white
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup milk (2% or whole)
1/2 tsp vanilla

Sift dry ingredients together and set aside. Combine butter, eggs and sugars and mix well until fluffy. Add milk and vanilla and combine. Stir in flour mixture until just combined. To this recipe you can add any dried, frozen or fresh fruit/vegetable, nut or chocolate you wish, as long as the combination doesn't exceed 1 cup. If you want to add bananas, applesauce, zucchini, carrots or any frozen fruit, decrease the milk to 2/3 cup. Bake in a pre heated 400 degree oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean; about 20 minutes for muffins and 50 - 60 minutes for bread. Prepare the muffin tin or loaf pan with butter or cooking spray.

Breadchick's Chocolate and Michigan Cherry Quick Bread

To Breadchick's Master Muffin Quick Bread Recipe (see above), add 1/2 cup of dried cherries and 1/2 cup of dark chocolate chips (60% or more). Bake for 60 - 65 minutes until the top springs back and a toothpick inserted comes out completely clean. Remove from pan and let cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.

What I love about this version of my master recipe is the dried cherries and chocolate chips sink to the bottom and form a delicious base layer. I like to serve this bread inverted sometimes so this layer of melted chocolate and cherries becomes the frosting. Great as a late afternoon "pick me up" with coffee or hot cocoa on a cold winter day.

Side note about Michigan Cherries: About 85% of the dried cherries sold in the US are tart cherries and these are primarily from Michigan, my home state and largest producer of tart cherries in the US. Every year around the 4th of July, the National Cherry Festival is held in Traverse City, MI; a city about 2 1/2 hours south of my home town. When you buy a frozen cherry pie or can of pie cherries in the store or a fresh cherry pie at a bakery in the US, chances are you are eating a Michigan Cherry!

Quick Bread Week: American Classics Meet the Spices of India

A few weeks ago I received an email asking if I would be interested in taking a look at Survir Saran's latest book, American Masala: 125 New Classics from My Home Kitchen.

Having admired his book Indian Home Cooking: A Fresh Introduction to Indian Food, with More Than 150 Recipes, I was excited at the opportunity to cook from this book and I wasn't disappointed.

First, this cookbook is nicely laid out and the photos are gorgeous. The book organized in a progressive form very similar to the way the lunch buffet at your local Indian restaurant is laid out; starting with the necessary chutneys, pickles, and spices that are traditional accompaniments to the food found in the subcontinent of India and ending at desserts with lots of main dishes for both the carnivore and the vegetarian in between.

I was super excited to find a fabulous recipe for Tamarind Chutney. Saran mentions that it is his partner Charlie's favourite condiment and I agree completely! When I'm at an Indian restaurant, I dip my naan, samosas, rice and just about anything else I can think to dip into this deliciously sweet but sour at the same time condiment. The recipe in "American Masala" calls for tamarind concentrate which along as being tamarind on steroids forced me to go the Asian Market on Route 1 in Norwalk and wander in the most fragrant grocery store in which I think I've ever shopped.

Other recipes from the book that I really enjoyed cooking were the Mushroom and Rice Biriyani Casserole, a hearty and spicy take on a pilaf. It was chock full of spices like cardamom pods, cloves, coriander, and curry. I made this to serve with the lamb korma I made for dinner with friends and the next day I made a rice frittata with the leftovers for breakfast. I also made Tamarind Rice (it has tamarind in it, need I say more??!!), Jumbo Shrimp Masala (a little over the top in spices but good none the less), Sweet Potato Chaat (going to spring this on my family at Thanksgiving) as well as a great take on meatloaf, Tamarind Glazed Meatloaf (definitely not your grandmother's meatloaf and there is that tamarind again). This last dish was good hot, cold and as a late night snack standing in my stocking feet with the fridge door open while I ate it with my fingers from the plate!!

But, by far and away, the absolutely best recipe I made from "American Masala" and maybe one of the best recipes I've ever made was the Pistachio and Cardamom Pound Cake with Lemon Icing. From the moment I opened the book I was drawn to this recipe. The name invokes a sense of exotic and I could see myself sitting on a porch overlooking the lush forests of Assam nibbling on the pound cake during afternoon tea.

While this is technically a pound cake, the recipe and instructions follow the composition of a classic quick bread and the Pistachio and Cardamom Pound Cake has a texture that puts most banana nut breads to shame. It is lighter than most pound cakes and the combination of the pistachios and cardamom along with the citric counter of the lemon icing make this a perfect way to start your morning. I so loved this pound cake that I made it twice, once for my neighbors upstairs and the other time to bring into work for a morning meeting. The last time I made the recipe, I ended up licking the bowl, the beaters from the mixer and the spoon! Not only was the pound cake light, but your kitchen will smell incredible all the time you are baking and for several hours after the cake comes out of the oven.

Even writing about Pistachio and Cardamom Pound Cake makes my mouth water and starts me planning when I can make it again...

Note: This recipe will be the first of a week long series I'm calling "Quick Bread Week", where every day I will post about a different quick bread. Quick breads are breads that come together as a batter and use baking soda or baking powder versus yeast as a leavening agent. So, even though technically this a pound cake, I think you will agree with me that once you taste this you could call it a quick bread and serve it with tea, coffee or milk as a breakfast treat!

Pistachio and Cardamom Pound Cake with Lemon Icing
from Suvir Saran's American Masala, published by Clarkson Potter Publishers

For the Cake:

1 cup raw, shelled unsalted pistachios
1 stick plus 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cardamom (preferably freshly ground)
1/4 tsp salt
3 large eggs
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup whole milk

For the Icing:

1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom (preferably freshly ground)
1 Tbsp plus 1 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon heavy cream or milk

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. To prepare the cake, place the pistachios on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until fragrant and browned, about 5 minutes. Cool and then pulse in a food processor until they become very fine (be careful not to over process; otherwise you'll have pistachio butter) and set aside. Reduce your oven temperature to 350 degrees F.

Grease an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch loaf pan with 1/2 Tbsp butter. Place a long strip of parchment paper in the pan bottom. Grease the top of the parchment with 1/2 Tbsp butter and set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, cardamom, and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside. Crack the eggs into a liquid measuring cup, whisk in the vanilla, and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, cream the remaining stick and a half of butter and sugar until they are light and airy. Drizzle in the eggs, a little at a time, beating between additions to incorporate and scraping the bowl as necessary. Alternate adding the flour and the milk, starting and ending with the flour and mixing until the batter is just nearly combined between additions, scrapping the bowl as necessary. Fold the pistachios into the batter by hand, then transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan. Bake the cake until a cake tester inserted into the cake's center comes out clean, 45 to 55 minutes. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes, then invert the cake onto a cooling rack and turn it so its top faces up. Let the cake cool completely.

While the cake cools, make the icing: Sift the confectioners' sugar and cardamom into a medium bowl. Whisk in the lemon juice and cream or milk. Spread the icing over the cooled cake, letting it drip over the sides. Once the icing has set, slice and serve.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Ask Breadchick: Thou Shalt Not Be Afraid of Yeast

During last month's Daring Baker Challenge of Cinnamon Rolls, several of my Daring Baker brothers and sisters expressed a fear of working with yeast. Comments like "my bread never turns out" or "I can't bake with yeast, it always fails" were common heard laments. Ironically during the same time frame, I received a few emails from folks, some Daring Bakers and some not, who had questions about yeast and wanted my advice about why their yeast breads didn't seem to ever work. All this anxiety got me to thinking, why is everyone so afraid of yeast? I came to a few conclusions and would like to share them with you.

One reason baking with yeast is scary to many people and fills them with apprehension is the myth of the difficulty associated with baking with yeast; something us "yeast heads" can share the blame for because we haven't been very good about talking about how good and reliable today's yeast is versus the yeast our grandmothers used. Maybe this is due in part to the awe that making a good loaf of bread inspires in the people we share the results with or the desire to have a bit of "black magic" associated with our passion of bread baking. But, whatever the reason, there are a lot of myths and misinformation floating around out there about how difficult it is to work with yeast. I'll probably be thrown out of the yeast witch coven for the myths I'm about to dispel but here goes...

Prior to fast acting, rapid rise, yeast becoming readily available to the general public, thanks to the bread machine revolution of the early 1980s, working with yeast was fussy and working with it required the use of an almost science experiment type method to activate it. While commercial bakeries had ready access to fast rise yeast, unless you knew someone who could get you some bakers yeast, as it was known then, what the home baker had to work with is what we now call active yeast.

All forms of active yeast need to be activated through a method called "proofing" where a warm liquid, typically either milk or water, between 80 and 105 degrees is added to the yeast and then the yeast sits for up to fifteen minutes until it is foamy and active. Thirty years ago, active yeast was available primarily in the moist cake form, also called compressed yeast and occasionally the dry powdered form. The cake yeast was extremely perishable and only lasted for a couple weeks before it would lose its potency. So, if you didn't bake a lot of bread and used an old cake of yeast, it wouldn't proof or if it did, the resulting dough wouldn't rise very high quickly leading to lots of failed loaves of bread.

It was this proofing of the cake yeast that also led to failures because to proof the cake yeast meant the liquid had to be exactly the right temperature; too hot would kill the yeast and too cold the yeast wouldn't activate. You also had to pour the liquid in with the yeast at the right speed. If you mixed the water in too slowly it wouldn't activate because the water would cool too much during the pouring and yeast needs warmth to work. If you poured it in too fast, you would risk killing the yeast because the liquid was still too hot. I remember how long it took (and how many failed loaves of bread I had) while trying to figure out that when I poured my liquid into the measuring cup it needed to be about 5 degrees hotter than I wanted it to be when it was mixed with the cake yeast because by the time I actually poured it into the yeast, it would have cooled that five degrees! Talk about fussy...

Once you got the liquid issue figured out there was the "to add sugar or not to add sugar" issue and old Father Time to deal with before you would know if your yeast was alive. Some people, my grandmother included, said you also had to put a pinch of sugar in the warm liquid to activate the yeast. Others, like my father, said this would ruin the yeast because it would get too active in the proofing and not have any strength left for the rise. After adding the warm liquid and what ever else you were told to add to the yeast, you had to wait ten to fifteen minutes to see if the yeast activated. Sometimes, even after waiting the time, you would have partly activated yeast (think drowsy yeast) instead of dead yeast. Partly activated yeast isn't foamy but has little bubbles and smells "yeasty".

Another myth many people encountered (and still do) was that by adding your ingredients in the wrong order you would kill your proofed yeast. I remember my grandmother admonishing me for adding salt into the sugar that I then dumped into my proofed yeast without adding the proofed yeast to the flour mixture first. "You just killed your yeast", she said. In over 30 years of bread making, I have never committed yeastacide by adding my ingredients in some wrong order. In fact, if you work with a bread machine, either for the entire process or just to knead the dough, the order for ingredients is all liquids including fats first followed by dry ingredients finishing with the yeast.

So, what is the truth as Breadchick sees it in regards to working with yeast and why should you not be afraid?

Today most of us home bakers use the instant yeast instead of the active yeast. Instant yeast is also known as rapid rise or bread machine yeast. This yeast doesn't require proofing. You can add it directly to the ingredients, either the dry ones or the wet ones and it just does its yeast thing, it rises. Even the active yeasts of today are much more stable and provide almost fool proof results because they are most often found in the powdered form with has a much longer shelf life than the cake yeast and aren't as susceptible to failure. All they take is a little more time because they do need to be proofed and they result in a dough that rises a bit slower than rapid rise yeast but I can't think of a time in the last 15 years that I've had a failure due to either the instant yeast or the active yeast in its dry form. Heck, I've even decided to skip the whole proofing of the active yeast, tossed it in with the ingredients and gotten a great loaf of bread! It just took almost twice the amount of time for the dough to double. Which leads us to another reason I think many people are afraid of working with yeast or more correctly fail with yeast and that is patience and the unwillingness to take the time to let the yeast work.

Depending on the type of yeast you use and a few other conditions like kitchen temperature and humidity, there can be long rise times associated with working with yeast.Here is the rise times I use in the kitchen when I'm working with yeast:

  • Rapid Rise Yeast: One to one and a half hours for dough to double

  • Active Yeast: two to two and a half hours for dough to double

  • Add 1/2 an hour for every 5 degrees below 75F that the temperature is in the place where your dough is rising. For example, if your kitchen is 65 degrees and you are using rapid rise yeast, it will take two to two and a half hours for the dough to double.

  • Add 1/2 an hour to an hour to the expected rise time for humidity over 60%

If you are baking with only partly activated yeast, dough rise times can be triple. Some people will mistake this for "it didn't work" and give up but even with partially activated yeast the dough will still rise. The only time I give up on a rise when I'm using either instant or active yeast is if after four hour the dough is still exactly the same size as when I put it in for it's first rise (I have an exception to this rule I will explain below). As a side note, using natural leavenings like a sourdough starter have entire different rules. Rise times for these types of breads often is counted in 8 to 12 hour increments. Which leads to the next little "dirty secret" about working with today's yeast!

I haven't had a dough using a dry form of yeast fail to rise in over 10 years and it isn't just because of my bread making prowess. It is because today's yeast is that stable and that good. Even the loaves I've made where I know I rushed the active yeast during its proof (i.e. only let it proof for about 5 minutes or less). Not one single failure. There is a bonus to a really slow rise too! A slow rise has the added benefit of better flavour development. So, if your dough is slow to rise, give it some more time and you will not only have success but you will have the most flavourful loaf of bread you've ever made!

One more thing about the patience and time thing to keep in mind, just because working with yeast does take time doesn't mean you can't be doing other things around the house or even outside of the house while your dough is rising. When I'm not traveling for work or pleasure, I make about four loaves a bread a week. Yup, you read that right, four loaves of bread a week. I have a full time job outside of the house not to mention a fairly active social life. You want to know how I manage to make that much bread and still have a life? (here come my exception to the four hour rule)

When I know I want to make a loaf of bread when I get home from work or back from whatever I'm doing, I make the dough before leaving the house using somewhere between an 1/8 and a 1/4 of the amount of yeast called for in the recipe. Dough will rise with any amount of yeast. It is the amount of yeast you use that has a direct affect on rise times.

A good rule of thumb is 1 tsp of yeast equals one hour of rise time. So if you know want to make bread when you get home from work and your recipe calls for 1 tsp of yeast and you use 1/8 of a tsp of yeast, and when you come home in 8 hours, your dough will be ready to be formed, have its final rise (2nd rises are always fast) and baked. I use this trick all the time, especially for pizza dough and flat breads like focaccia that don't need a high rise for the second rise.

Now that you know the "truth" about today's yeast and how easy it is to work with what are you waiting for?? Get out there and bake a loaf of bread!!

Note: I posted about this recipe back in February 2005 but I've received some requests from readers for an easy, no fail bread recipe. This one couldn't be simpler and it results in a great loaf of bread. The secret is the sponge.

No Fail Farmer's White Bread

9 oz water
2 tsp yeast
3 1/2 cups of all purpose flour (11 - 13% gluten)
1/4 cup bread flour (13% or higher gluten)
1/4 cup dry milk
1/4 cup butter (melted)
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
3 tablespoons of sugar

Step 1: Sponge
Mix 1 tsp yeast, 1 1/2 cup of the all purpose flour and the 9 oz of water in a 2 quart glass bowl or Tupperware container. Cover with plastic wrap or lid and let it sit for 2-3 hours in 70 degree room. (This time will be longer in cool room or shorter in warmer room). Tip: If your oven has a light, turn the light on and put the sponge in the oven to rise.

Step2: Make the dough
Combine the rest of the ingredients except for the remaining all purpose flour. Add the remaining flour 1/2 a cup at a time until the dough is firm but still a little shaggy. Sprinkle a little flour on a good clean surface and flour your hands to finish kneading the dough; only about 5 minutes or so or until you see the development of gluten. Dough will be smooth and elastic feeling when it is ready. Put in oiled bowl or proofing container and let rise until double, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Step 3: Form loaf
Punch dough down and press into rectangle about 12" x 5" Fold rectangle into 3rds and place seam side down in large greased glass loaf pan. brush a little melted butter on top of loaf, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until top of loaf touches plastic wrap. Remove plastic wrap and let loaf rise until about 2 inches above rim of loaf pan. About 30 minutes.

Step 4: Bake
In 350 degree preheated oven, bake bread for 30 - 35 minute or until internal temperature is 190 degrees. If crust begins to get too brown, cover with foil until last 5 minutes of baking. Remove from oven and pan when done and let cool about 2 hours before slicing...if you can ;-)

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Cooking My Friends with Leftovers

Now before you think I'm about review a cookbook written by Hannibal Lecter, don't worry there won't be a fava bean to be found in any of the recipes I used tonight. Instead, this post is going to be all about cooking recipes I found on various friends sites that helped me clean out my fridge and pantry!

We'll start with the pork chop, potatoes and mushrooms I had for dinner! I had one pork chop in the freezer and I wanted to make something to go with it and use up the three yukon gold potatoes and the half a container of white button mushrooms I had lurking around the bottom of the fridge.

So, I headed over to Je Mange la Ville where I know the best pork recipes can be found and she definitely didn't disappoint me with her thick cut porkchops: brined, seared and finished in the oven. While the pork chop was brining, I remembered a recipe I had bookmarked over at Sara of I Like to Cook for sauteed mushrooms with Italian dressing. I served these alongside some simple roasted potatoes and the wonderful porkchop. Even though the weather outside says summer this meal said fall!

While I ate dinner and watched a great old Frank Sinatra and Debbie Reynolds movie called The Tender Trap, the Rocky Road Bars that Mary over at Alpineberry posted about this morning were baking in the oven so I could take them into work tomorrow. I can't wait to try these and they look scrumptious.

For dessert, since the oven was on and was the right temperature, I baked an apple I had left over from making Harvest Apple Bread and used the last of the spiced oatmeal I made up for a recipe I was testing last week. It was really good but no where near as good as the piece of pumpkin bread my personal trainer, C made and brought into the club today. It was the moistest and lightest pumpkin bread I think I've tasted (and I'm not just saying that because she reads my blog and will kick my arse at my next workout) but because it was.

All I can say is she better have a copy of that recipe for me the next time I see her because my neighbor just gave me a bunch of small pumpkins tonight and I know the first recipe I'm making with them...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

A Lazy Sunday with Friends


Even though the weather in the greater NYC area has been sultry to say the least, I have just wrapped up a busy but fun filled week of baking, cooking and hanging out with friends in NYC while I attended the Audio Engineering Society 123rd annual convention.

Since I feel like my amplifier has been turned up to 11 since Monday (bonus points to anyone who "gets" that reference), I decided to spend the entire morning lazing around the apartment, reading the Sunday NY Times in bed with a large pot of cinnamon hazelnut coffee, homemade peach scones one of my neighbors brought over yesterday and left on my doorstep, and LB, who spent the entire morning curled up at my side with his head jammed against his afghan and his butt jammed against the pile of newspapers.

Of course, lazy day or not, no Sunday would be complete for me without making at least one loaf of bread. I picked a bread that is fairly lazy and no fuss so it is just doing its thing in the kitchen right now by proofing through its second rise. This is the loaf of bread I'll be posting about for Zorra's 2nd Annual Bread Day on October 16th; a super event that last year saw over 100 bread bakers and bloggers world wide participating. I won't tell you what I'm baking but it is a recipe from a cookbook a very dear friend, Helen of Tartlette, recently sent me as a housewarming gift. I've baked several breads from it so far and the recipes are so fantastic that even six little eggs could bake a loaf of bread from it with super results! There is still time for you to pull out your stand mixer and flour and participate. Your bread doesn't have to be a yeast bread so, if you get the willies from working with the little yeast beasties, you can still show us your loaves!

Speaking of housewarming gifts and super dear friends, look what I got this week!!

Lisa, the stupendously funny and incredibly sweet genius behind La Mia Cucina and one of the founding members of that whacky online group called Daring Bakers, sent me a surprise this week in the form of salt rising bread yeast and baker's couche. A baker's couche is a piece of canvas used to shape baguettes and other forms of crusty bread during the last rise and then transfer them to the baking sheet or in my case, my quarry tiles. These two items were on a King Arthur Bakers Catalogue wish list that was set up for a super top secret and special baking weekend coming up with two friends. I can't wait to make the Salt Rising Bread in a couple weeks and serve it with some homemade beef stew and I'm packing the couche to go with me on that trip because you never know what is going to get baked that weekend...but I can guarantee there will be lots of giggling and a bit flour strewn around (not to mention a few empty wine bottles).

Last but hardly least, I heard from a friend last night in the form of an award! I received a "Nice Matters Award" from Karen at Bake My Day!

Karen has become a good blogging friend over the past few months as we have baked together in the Daring Bakers and traded a few tips back and forth. I was touched by the sweet things she had to say about me and The Sour Dough. In almost four years of blogging, I can absolutely say the best thing that has come from writing The Sour Dough has been meeting wonderful people like Karen who have become friends.

So, now it is time for me to pass on to seven fellow blogger who embody the spirit of the Nice Matters Award.

Sara of I Like To Cook: Sara is my oldest blog friend and even though we haven't found a way to meet in person yet, she and I send flurries of emails and packages back and forth and offer each other support in both our cooking and other lives. She never has a bad thing to say about anybody and is always one of the first people to encourage others to try difficult things.

Veronica at Veronica's Test Kitchen: Veronica is one of the most support people I have ever had the extreme pleasure of working with in the world of blogging. We are Daring Baker sisters and she always every month posts on our secret decoder ring required blog tips and help for those of us struggling through the challenge recipe.

Andrea at A Small Group of Thoughtful, Committed Citizens: Andrea is out there putting her whole heart and soul into making this world a better place for everybody, no matter their colour, creed or situation in life and she's doing it one person and one post at a time. Now that Andrea has made a temporary move to the east coast, I'm going to have to figure out a way to meet up with her (and maybe drag Jill from Writing or Typing along for the ride) but until then, I'll just have to admire her handy work from afar.

Arcadia at Coloringbooksblue: This is a rather personal one for me. Arcadia is my cousin (who is almost 15 years younger than I am) and just about the sweetest person I know but she is also one of the people I admire the most in the whole world because she has pulled herself up by her bootstraps more times than I can count and still hasn't lost that special something that makes her want to help people find a way to be better people themselves. If there was Nobel Prize for tenacity, she would surely be nominated. I'm proud to know Arcadia and even prouder to be her cousin.

Mimi at French Kitchen in America: Mimi is one of the most inclusive bloggers I have ever read and I am proud to call her a blogging friend (not to mention fellow Yooper gal). The nature of blogging tends to make one someone self-centric but I can not think of any other blogger who elicits so much feedback from her readers and genuinely is interested in the response. For anyone who blogs, personally answering each and every comment can be time consuming and most of us try but fall short even when we have the best of intents. Mimi always finds time to personally respond to each and every one of her readers, even with her super busy and hectic schedule.

Ruth at Once Upon a Feast: Not unlike Mimi of French Kitchen in America, Ruth is one of the nicest people I know in regards to garnering feedback from her readers. Not only that but she hosts what I think is one of the friendliest blogging events, Presto Pasta Night every week as well as posts on her exploits her Halifax kitchen.

My last award goes to someone who is world class in every way, as a baker, a cookbook author and a blogger, and that is Dorie Greenspan. Too often in the world of blogging, especially the bloggers who are pros at what they do, the blog is either "ghost written" or is one long commercial. For anyone who has ever met Dorie, heard Dorie speak or seen Dorie at a cooking event, all you have to do is read her blog to know it is written by her. Not only does her bubbly enthusiasm spill over in the blog but she finds time to answer everyone's comments and questions on her blog. In the world of snarky and increasingly untouchable food celebrities including a few well known food bloggers, Dorie stands on a pinnacle of meringue all her own not only for her reachability but her honesty and niceness to all us who love to bake with her.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Presto Pasta Night: Quick and Light Chicken Ham Lasagna

I've been having a crazy cooking week!

Between the Daring Bakers Cinnamon Buns (you have checked all the Daring Bakers buns haven't you??!!), working on a few recipes from a couple new cookbooks I promised to review for an upcoming post, perfecting my BrownieBabe recipe (I'm all ready so bring it on!), and having friends over for dinner last night to taste my first attempt at Indian cooking (my Naan - not so great, my Lamb Korma - success!), I've been living in my kitchen and I've not been this happy in a very long time!

Monday night was the only night where I felt rushed but I really wanted something hearty but light for dinner. So, I turned to an old standby recipe for a down and dirty quick lasagna, a recipe from Cooking Light for Chicken-Ham Lasagna.

I really like this dish and by using a store bought rotisserie chicken and using the "no boil" lasagna noodles, you can have this dish made, in and out of the oven in less then 45 minutes. Like a lot of the dishes I make, I've added a few things to the recipe, .sliced white button mushrooms sauteed in a bit of olive oil and garlic and oregano.

Served with a small side salad and glass of apple toned Riesling and this was the perfect light but tasty way to start my whirlwind kitchen week off on a yummy foot and the perfect entry for the amazing Ruth of Once Upon a Feast's stellar event Presto Pasta Night.

Chicken-Ham Lasagna
(adapted from Cooking Light)
Serves 4

1 cup fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
3/4 cup store bought rotisserie chicken (remove bones and skin), shredded
1 cup skim milk
1/2 cup light cream
1/8 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
2 tsp oregeno
2 tsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup sliced white button mushrooms
Cooking spray
6 no-cook lasagna noodles, divided
3/4 cup thinly sliced 96% fat-free deli ham, chopped, divided

Preheat oven to 350°. In large skillet, heat olive oil until shimmering and saute mushrooms until translucent. Add oregano and garlic and saute for 30 seconds. Remove pan from heat and set aside mushrooms. Place broth and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in the large skillet over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil. Combine milk, cream, flour, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a bowl; stir well with a whisk until smooth. Add milk mixture to broth in pan. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Cook 1 minute or until mixture thickens, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add 1/2 cup cheese, stirring until cheese melts. Add chicken and mushrooms to sauce, stir until combined.

Spread 1/4 cup sauce over bottom of a 9 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange 2 lasagna noodles over sauce. Spoon 1/2 cup sauce evenly over noodles. Top evenly with 1/2 of the chopped ham. Repeat once and ending with final 2 noodles. Top with remaining sauce. Sprinkle evenly with remaining 1/2 cup cheese.

Cover with foil very lightly coated with cooking spray; bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Remove and discard foil; bake until the cheese lightly browns. Sprinkle with parsley, if desired.

Calories: 280 Fat: 8g Carbs: 19g