Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Turkey Day Preparations

Each year we travel to Ohio to celebrate Thanksgiving with my husband's family. As such, I need only prepare a few dishes, rather than an entire feast.

Ah, it is a beautiful, cold morning.

Time to get busy. Last evening I played sous chef for my daughter, who made Outrageous Brownies. This morning it was time to cut them and put them in a container for traveling.

Then it's on to the Broccoli, Bacon and Dried Cranberry Salad. I clean and chop broccoli, celery and red onion. Cooked bacon is chopped and added to the salad. Dried cranberries are tossed in. Mayonnaise, white vinegar and sugar are mixed to taste. The dressing is stirred into the salad. Two dishes down.

Being such a nice mom, I chopped some green onion and beef for my daughter, who will later be making the cheese ball.

After making the cheese ball, she worked on breakfast for tomorrow. The dear daughter made a double batch of pie dough and rolled it out. A bit of milk is spread out and sugar and cinnamon are generously sprinkled on top. She then carefully rolled the dough up along one long side before cutting the roll into 1/2 to 1-inch pieces. The rolls were placed, cut side up, in a greased baking dish and baked at 375 degrees for about 30 to 40 minutes. These rolls will never really brown, so watch carefully and pull them out of the oven when the dough has cooked through.

And here are the cinnamon rolls as well as our three dishes that will travel with us tomorrow.

And now, on to dinner. I still have a few pomegranate arils left over from earlier this month and decided that I would used these in a vinaigrette for my salad. Here I have black pepper, salt, white wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and the pomegranate arils.

First I push the arils through a sieve to extract the juice. The remaining pulp and seeds are discarded.
I then whisk in the olive oil and season with a bit of black pepper and salt. A splash of white wine vinegar is added to the mix.

After tasting, I decide to add a bit of honey.

Very nice. And this is just enough for one salad. My family is so relieved.

Well, dinner is finished, the kitchen has been cleaned and we are ready for our trip tomorrow.

And now I wish you all a very happy and safe Thanksgiving Day.

Happy Turkey Day!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Baking Up Bread

I am really getting into this yeast bread thing. Today's featured bread is rosemary focaccia. As I have had good luck with the bread recipes from The Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook so far, I turned to their version of this classic Italian flat bread. Since this is the first time I am making this bread, I decided to halve the recipe this time out.

Here I have extra virgin olive oil, warm water (105 to 115 degrees), black pepper, all purpose flour, kosher salt, unsalted butter, finely chopped fresh rosemary, yeast and garlic cloves.

The first step is to add one package dry yeast to one cup warm water. Set aside for 5 minutes.

Place 2 cups flour in a large bowl.

Add the yeast water to the flour and stir well to combine. You will have a soft dough.

Soft dough: check. Cover and place in a warm place for one hour or until the dough has doubled in size.

Since I have some time, I strip the leaves from the rosemary stems (I bet my rosemary plant thought it would be able to relax once I brought it inside for the winter) and finely chop the leaves. Half of the rosemary goes in a bowl with the butter and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. I also peel and grate the garlic and place that in another bowl with the remaining rosemary, 1-1/4 teaspoons kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper. I set these bowls aside for later.

Might as well brush 1 tablespoon olive oil on a 10" x 15" jelly roll pan while the dough rises.

The recipe did warn that the dough would be very spongy. Guess that translates to very sticky. My dear daughter was nice enough to take this picture and the next so that I wouldn't get dough all over my camera.

At this point I am directed to knead in one more cup of flour until the dough is firm.

Still working in the flour.

Now I mix in the butter, rosemary and salt into the dough. Knead for 5 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. More flour may be worked in, if needed.

Five minutes later, and the dough is looking good.

Roll or press the dough out into a rectangle and place on the prepared baking sheet. Gently press out the dough into the desired shape.

Cover and place in a warm place for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size again.

Once the dough has doubled in size, I poke dimples into the surface of the dough with my fingers.

Sprinkle the rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper mixture over the dough.

Drizzle olive oil over the dough.

Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown.

This smells so good.

I like my focaccia dipped in extra virgin olive oil drizzled with good balsamic vinegar, salt and black pepper.

I'm not sure why I was so afraid of yeast breads. Rosie Hawthorne was right. This is easy.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Ya Win Some, Ya Lose Some

Last weekend we finally managed to get all three of us together (only took four months!) so we could travel up to Indy (Indianapolis, for you non-Hoosiers) to visit my son, his wife and our grandson. Unfortunately, it was a rainy, chilly, dreary day. But we were together and we had a nice time visiting with the rest of the family. And the little one is growing so quickly. Babies tend to do that, don't they?

So, we had lunch out and then spent some time strolling around a nearby open-air mall (would it kill them to have covered walk ways?) before we needed to head back home. After a couple of hours driving through the rain we arrived home just in time for dinner. Oh, joy. Now I get to cook. Or not. I'm tired after driving and walking around in the rain and the last thing I want to do is spend time in the kitchen. So I decided to go with my favorite comfort meal when I don't feel good. Drum roll please: grilled cheese sandwiches and soup. Now, my daughter only likes the microwaveable chicken and noodles that comes in a handy container, so that is what she gets. I have to admit that I do have a soft spot for the microwave creamy tomato soup, so I was looking forward to that. However, the dear husband decided to throw a monkey wrench in the works. It seems the only other thing around is a container of vegetable beef soup for two. There goes my tomato soup with chopped green onion and freshly grated cheddar cheese on top.

Being the dutiful wife that I am, I reluctantly heat the soup while I make the sandwiches. Then I taste the stuff. Great, I guess I was in the mood for sodium, preservatives and mushy things that sort of resembled vegetables - not. I couldn't finish the stuff and I vowed never again.

Fast forward a couple of days. I purchased a couple of beef shanks, some veggies and some one-cup plastic containers at my regular grocery store.

Here I have two packages of bone-in beef shanks, black pepper, salt, onion, two cups of homemade beef consomme, three red potatoes, one carrot, celery heart, some fresh green beans, frozen corn, a garlic clove, some Crimini mushrooms, fresh thyme, oregano, rosemary, bay leaves and two small Roma tomatoes.

The veggies have been washed and chopped.

Now it's time to trim the meat. Trim off as much connective tissue and fat as you can. Be patient, this takes a while.

I cut the meat into 1/2-inch pieces. This was worth the time and effort, given that beef stew meat is two dollars more a pound and I always have to trim that up any way. As a bonus, I have the bones and other scraps, which will go into the freezer for a future beef stock.

First I sear the beef in batches in a bit of extra virgin olive oil. Remove to a bowl while you continue working.

Saute the onion, carrots and mushrooms. You may need to add a bit more olive oil at this point.

The remaining veggies go into the pot. Saute lightly and add the beef consomme so the veggies don't burn. As you can see, the consomme is still frozen. That will soon be remedied. Add the herbs. I didn't even bother chopping them as the leaves will fall off the stems as they cook. The stems and bay leaves will later be fished out of the soup.

Add the beef (and the juices) back to the pot and add enough water to cover. Season the mixture at this point. I partially cover the pot and allow this to simmer over medium heat for a couple of hours.

Once the soup has cooled, ladle into labeled containers. The bay leaves and stems from the herbs are pulled out and set aside. I ended up with six single-serve containers and one multi-serve container of homemade beef/veggie soup. These go into the freezer and will be ready for a quick meal.
Now, do you remember the title of this post? When I told my husband what I had made, he pouted. He actually likes that chemical-laden crap in a can. What's a foodie to do?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I Did It! I Made Bread!

As you might recall, I have recently made it my mission to successfully bake an edible loaf of yeast bread. I am very happy to report that today I succeeded. Go me!

I once again turned to The Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook, this time for a Basic White Bread recipe. This recipe calls for about 7-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 3 tablespoons sugar, 2-1/2 teaspoons salt, 1 package active dry yeast, 1-1/2 cups water, 1/2 cup milk, and 3 tablespoons butter.

First I mix 2 cups flour, the sugar, salt and the yeast in a large bowl.

Add the water, milk and butter together in a heat-proof container and heat till the butter has melted. I used the "melt" setting on my microwave to do this step.

Once the butter has melted, allow the mixture to cool down to 120 to 130 degrees.

Once the liquid ingredients have cooled, add them slowly to the dry ingredients. Mix for four minutes with an electric mixer. Now, this would be a good time to have a stand mixer, but alas, this is the best I can do. As the recipe is written for people who own stand mixers, I will have to improvise.

See what I mean? After slowly adding in more flour, the poor hand mixer is struggling, so I switch to a spoon. Then, as more flour is added, I need to switch to using my hand to mix the flour into the dough. Work those muscles, girl. The recipe simply says to add flour until a soft dough forms. What?! How do I know when I have added enough?? Note to self: I really do need to get a good bread cookbook. Well, I keep adding flour until the dough pulls away from the bowl and it isn't that sticky any more.

I turn the dough out on a floured board and begin kneading. I still have about half the flour left, so I knead the flour in as I go. The directions say to knead for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic.

I think this is good. I have to say that at this point I am very nervous because I still have about 1-1/2 to 2 cups of flour left over. But, I console myself with the fact that it is a very dry day, so I will hope for the best.

Place in a greased bowl and turn the dough to coat. Cover and place in a warm, draft-free place until the dough has doubled in size.

I stick my fingers in the dough and the indentation remains. It's time to punch down the dough and move forward.

After kneading a few more times, I am ready to form loaves. I first cut the dough in half.

Then I roll one half out into a 7" x 14" rectangle (or oval, as the case may be).

Starting at one short end, tightly roll the dough. Pinch the edges.

Place, seam side down in a greased loaf pan.

I decided to do something special for the second loaf. After rolling out the dough, I brushed melted butter on top.

Cinnamon sugar go on top of that. Roll the loaf up as before.

I'm out of loaf pans, so this will have to do. Now, cover and place both loaves in a warm, draft-free place for an hour.

The dough also rises.

Now the loaves go into a preheated 375 degree oven for 45 to 50 minutes. According to the recipe, you can tell that the bread is done when it makes a dull thudding sound when you tap it.

The bread is done and goes on a rack to cool. I decide to brush the tops with the remaining melted butter.

Besides the fact that I didn't cut my "halves" into equal sizes, they both look beautiful.

I wish you could smell this. Oh, but if you could, you'd probably want some. And then my daughter would be very unhappy.

I, however, am very happy. Today I made bread that won't be mistaken for a door stop. I still want a good bread cookbook, though.