Monthly Archives: December 2010

A brief absence.

Happy Christmas and Merry almost-New Year!

I have been out of commission for awhile, and will continue to be absent for a little while longer due to traveling, amongst other things.

But never fear- I will be back in mid-January, strong and ready to conquer the kitchen once more. :) Enjoy the rest of 2010, and see you soon!

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Challah

It seems that all I’ve made lately is fried food and bread.  Not true.

Well… not completely true.

Okay, so it’s somewhat true.  ‘Tis the season, right?

I got this recipe from the wonderful Baking with Julia, written/compiled by the talented and famed Dorie Greenspan.  This book is amazing.  From the glossy photos to the incredibly detailed intros to each recipe, it’s 100% high-class.  Which is slightly overwhelming, honestly, until I make something like this challah and it is so fantastic, so melty in your mouth, with the eggy, buttery crust and the perfect amount of chewy in every bite… and then, all the overwhelming just slowly fades away and instead I’m left with a slightly-smug feeling of victory. Victory over challah.

It’s good. Really, really good. And it’s fun to say. There’s something endearing about watching a fully-grown, freckled white man say “Challah!” with his arms in the air, gripping a piece of warm buttered bread, as if shouting out “hollah” to his homies.

Just be sure to pinch and fold under your ends tightly, or else you end up with bread that’s beautiful on one end and has a claw on the other.  Challah claw!

*Note: this recipe makes two loaves, but can be halved pretty easily, which I’ve done a few times. However, I don’t recommend it, simply because the leftover loaf makes such delicious french toast a few days later! Store your leftover challah at room temperature in sealed plastic bags; it may start to taste stale after 2 days, but should keep for up to 5.

Challah
recipe by Lauren Groveman, from Baking with Julia

2 T butter, melted
1-1/2 T active dry yeast
1/2 c water (80 to 90F)
1/3 c sugar
1/2 c butter
1 c whole milk
1 T honey
2-1/2 t salt
4 large eggs + 1 for glaze
6-1/2 c bread or high-gluten flour

Brush a large mixing bowl with some of the melted butter; set aside the remainder.

Whisk the yeast and a pinch of the sugar into the warm water. Let rest until creamy, about 5 minutes.  Cut the 1/2 c of butter into small pieces; place in a saucepan with the milk and heat over medium-low until the butter in melted.  Add the remaining sugar, the honey, and salt, stirring to dissolve.  Pour into a large mixing bowl and let cool to 110 degrees or cooler, if necessary.

Add the creamy yeast and eggs, stirring with a heavy wooden spoon.  Add the flour 1/2 cup at a time, stirring vigorously with each addition;  stop adding flour when you have a dough that cleans the sides of the bowl and is difficult to stir. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead until it is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (This can also be done with a heavy-duty mixer and dough hook.)

Form the dough into a ball and set inside the buttered mixing bowl. Brush the top and sides with a bit of the remaining melted butter, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature until doubled in volume. (This took me about 90 minutes.) Then punch it down to deflate, recover, and let rise again until doubled, which should take less time than the first rise (45 to 60 minutes).

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Deflate the dough, cut it in half with a knife or bench scraper, and cover one piece of dough while working with the other.  Divide the first hunk into 3 equal pieces, and roll each into a rope that is about 16 inches long and slightly tapered at the ends. Lay them parallel on the baking sheet and begin braiding from the middle- braid one side and then the other, smooshing together the 3 pieces at the end and tightly folding them under.  Repeat with the second half of the dough.

Cover each loaf with a damp towel and let rise at room temperature, about 45 minutes or until nearly doubled. Preheat the over to 375.  Beat one large egg;  brush the tops of the loaves before putting them into the oven.  Bake for 20 minutes; remove from the oven and brush the exposed bread on the top with the remaining glaze.  Bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the loaves are golden and sound hollow when thumped on the bottom with a spoon or your knuckles.  Let cool before slicing.

Optional: add 1 T. honey to the beat egg glaze for a sweeter challah; or any favorite herb for a savory twist.  We love stirring in a bit of minced garlic, oregano, basil, and thyme leaves, and using the leftover “stale” loaf to make buttered garlic bread a few days later.

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Filed under Breads

spinach & bacon twice-baked potatoes

Every now and then, I make a conscious effort to feed my husband something more than starches, cheese, or meat.  In this case, it started with spinach.  An innocent thought of spinach…

… that was quickly overrun with starches, cheese, AND meat.

I try my best, people.  At least N loved them– leafy greens and all.

These are the best twice-baked potatoes I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot. Too often twice-baked taters are too cheesy and/or have a runny or thin texture. These guys are creamy AND chunky, thanks to the sour cream and only stirring the filling once; overstirring will break down the potato more and more, until you’re left with mashed potatoes instead of slightly-mashed potatoes. Oh yes, there’s a difference. :)

Small florets of cooked broccoli or cauliflower could easily be substituted for the spinach. The bacon could be skipped altogether, but then you might want to add a little salt to the filling.  Also feel free to add more cheese to the top if that’s your thing.

Spinach and bacon twice-baked potatoes
adapted from Food.com

2 large or 3 medium-sized baking potatoes
2 slices bacon
1/3 c sour cream
1 small or 1/2 large shallot
6 oz. fresh or frozen spinach (approximate)
3 oz. mozzarella or cheddar cheese
freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 400.  Scrub potatoes, then make large slits across the skins, as if marking where to cut them in half lengthwise without actually cutting the potato in half.  Wrap in foil and bake until done through, about 1 hour. (This can be done before and potatoes can be stored in the foil in the fridge for a day or two.)

Heat a small skillet on medium-high and fry the bacon to your liking.  Meanwhile, cut the potatoes in half where you had previously marked them.  Scoop out the insides of the baked potatoes into a medium bowl; add the sour cream, but don’t stir yet.  Once the bacon is fried, drain on paper towels and chop into bite-sized or smaller pieces, and put into the bowl with the potatoes.  Finely dice the shallot and fry it in the bacon grease for just a minute or two, and then dump into the potato bowl.  If using fresh spinach, wilt it in the same pan;  if using frozen, just break it up a bit. Add the spinach to the bowl. Coarsely grate the cheese and add 1/2 of it to the bowl. Finally, take a large fork and mix all of this wonderful stuff together, smashing the largest potato pieces but not completely mashing them to smittereens.

Heat the oven to 350.  Lay the potato skin shells on a baking sheet and fill them generously with the potato mixture.  Grind a bit of black pepper over the top and then top with the remaining shredded cheese.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the cheese on top is bubbly and the potatoes are heated through.

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Filed under Gluten-Free, Side dishes, Vegetables, Winter

Ritz cookies

Is this even a recipe?

I’m pretty sure it’s not.  But I still think that besides being my husband’s favorite, it’s the easiest Christmas “cookie” ever.

I have never seen these outside of my family’s holiday gatherings, though I’m not surprised… they really shouldn’t count as cookies.  But for whatever reason, they’re always loved.  Something as simple a creamy peanut butter spread between two Ritz crackers and dunked into melted chocolate bark shouldn’t be this good.

And yet, it is.

Ritz Cookies

Spread approximately 1/2 T of creamy peanut butter onto a Ritz cracker; add another cracker to make a sandwich. Dip in melted chocolate bark and lay on waxed paper til cool.  Stores in an air-tight container at room temperature for about a week, or in the freezer for a month or longer.

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Filed under 30 min. or less, Cookies, Desserts

Arancini

Arancini, or arancini di riso, are leftovers combined with street food.  Sure, they’ve got a “fancy” name, they’re a perfect appetizer or small plate for a dinner party or holiday gathering, and they taste complex with an exciting, cheesy surprise in the middle.  But in reality, arancini are the most effective way to use up leftover risotto.

One night in the fridge can turn creamy, delicate, filling risotto into a sticky, goopy, nightmare.  That’s all it takes.  And when you’re cooking for one or two or making it as a side, the fact that it makes horrible leftovers is a huge deterrent from spending the time it takes to make a good risotto. 

Which is probably why I like arancini so much- it helps me justify the 45 minutes spent making delicious risotto instead of putting my clothes away or cleaning off the dining room table, because I know that in a few days I can use up the leftovers for crispy, cheesy arancini.  Win-win, people.

I’ve made and enjoyed “traditional” arancini with ricotta or mozzarella in the center and coated in bread crumbs, but I prefer a stripped-down version with a bite of cheddar.  For this batch I used a cheddar that was made in our backyard (not literally)- Cow Caviar of Chippewa Falls, WI, who buys milk from small organic family farms in the area to make their cheese!  This cheese really exceeded my expectations, and it melted wonderfully in the arancini.  I think that any creamy, melty cheese would work fantastically in arancini, be it untraditional.

Arancini
adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

2 c. leftover, cooled risotto
2 eggs
1/2 c. flour + 1/2 flour for rolling
1/2 c. grated parmesan or romano
2 oz. cheese, such as mozzarella or a creamy cheddar, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 T. oil
salt and pepper

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs to blend. Add the risotto, flour, and parmesan, and mix well to combine (I use my hands).  Place the 1/2 c. into a wide shallow dish.  Roll about 2-3 tablespoons of the rice mixture between your palms; insert a cube of cheese into the ball, and then roll in flour.  Repeat until all the balls are prepared.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high until hot and shimmery, and reduce heat to medium.  Add the rice balls in batches and cook until golden brown and heated through to melt the cheese, turning as necessary.  (Mine get a bit flatter- almost like crab cakes- but that’s okay with me!)  Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and let rest on paper towels.  Serve warm with marinara for dipping (optional- we eat them plain).

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Filed under 30 min. or less, Side dishes

Sweet potato and parsnip latkes

While there’s still some Hanukkah left, I figured I’d post my favorite twist on a traditional favorite.

But even though Hanukkah only lasts 8 days and nights doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy these throughout the rest of the winter.  They’re a quick and easy way to use up the last few stragglers at the bottom of your veggie bin. And mix it up- or add a regular white potato or two to make them stretch if needed.

If you’re not sure about parsnips, give them a try in a combo dish like this, or as mashed (sweet) potatoes with parsnips. They’re sort of carrot-y, with a herbier, grassier flavor.  And, call me crazy, but I think I even detect a hint of coconut in there.  Maybe that’s why I think they balance so nicely with sweet potatoes and yams.

Sweet potato and parsnip latkes
Adapted loosely from Food Network

2 medium-large sweet potatoes
2 medium parsnips
1 small scallion
2 eggs
1/2 c. flour
1/2 t. thyme
dash of cayenne (optional)
salt and pepper
4 T. vegetable oil

Peel the sweet potatoes and parsnips, and then grate.  Thinly slice the scallion and mix into grate vegetables.  Beat the eggs in a separate dish, and then toss into vegetables; add flour and seasoning and mix to combine.

Heat vegetable oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium high. Once oil is hot, reduce heat to medium.  Drop large spoonfuls into the hot oil and press to flatten; cook on each side for about 3 minutes until golden brown.  Let rest on paper towels, and keep in a warm oven while frying the rest in batches.

And, of course, serve warm with sour cream and/or applesauce. Mazeltov!

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Filed under 30 min. or less, Fall, Side dishes, Vegetables, Winter

Cheddar Bay Biscuits

December. Time for multicolored lights, odd-shaped leftover pieces of wrapping paper, and high-calorie and delicious treats. Dear readers, these may not be as traditionally Christmas-y as frosted sugar cookies, but they are certainly as delicious and unhealthful. Skip the trip to Red Lobster and whip up a quick batch of these instead.

Cheddar Bay Biscuits
Adapted from Suzanne McMinn

2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1 t sugar
1/2 t Old Bay seasoning
1/4 t salt
1/4 t ground cayenne pepper
1/2 t garlic powder
1/2 c (8 T) butter, very cold
1 1/4 c grated cheddar cheese
1/3 c sour cream
1 c milk

Butter topping:
3 T butter
1/2 t garlic powder
1/2 t parsley
1/2 t  Old Bay seasoning

Preheat oven to 450. Mix together dry ingredients (thru garlic powder) in a large bowl. Grate the butter on the coarse holes, and then blend with the dry ingredients with a spoon. Stir in the cheddar cheese; combine the sour cream and milk, and then mix into dry ingredients just until moistened and doughy. Note: don’t be afraid to add a couple extra tablespoons of milk if you think the dough might be too dry.

Drop the biscuits in a greased 9×13 dish with a scoop or large spoons.  I generally make 3 x 4 biscuits, for a total of twelve, but for smaller biscuits you could try 4 x 5.

Melt the below topping ingredients together in a small saucepan. Lightly brush half of the topping over the unbaked biscuits. Bake for 20-30 minutes (more for larger biscuits, less time for smaller biscuits). Brush with remaining topping (may have to heat in the microwave for a few seconds to rewarm), and serve warm.

These keep at room temperature for 4-5 days in an airtight container and are excellent if slightly reheated.


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Filed under 30 min. or less, Breads, Side dishes