Saturday, April 28, 2012

American Sandwich Bread

Have you ever had homemade bread?  It's hard to go back to store bought, once you've had homemade.  Ever since I was a kid, I have been exposed to homemade bread.  Growing up with five brothers and sisters, money was tight in our house.  My dad used to make homemade bread- imagine making six school lunches everyday!  He used to make double or triple batches and freeze the extra loaves.  There is nothing like having a sandwich on fresh bread or a fresh piece of homemade toast!

I figured it would be appropriate to post this bread recipe today, on my dad's birthday.  I'd have to say my dad is my original inspiration to get in the kitchen and start making things homemade.  He and my mom made so many things from scratch when I was growing up (even home grown chicken)- I didn't appreciate it then, but I sure do now.  With all the chemicals and preservatives in food today, I know that homemade is a way for me to watch what my kids are taking in. For the most part, all my siblings and I are very healthy, and I attribute part of that to the lack of prepackaged food we ate growing up.

This is not my dad's recipe that he usually uses, but I figured I'd post it as a birthday present for him to try.  I don't know that I would have had the belief in myself to actually make a loaf of bread, had I never seen him doing it so often when I was growing up.  Recently, he told me he started making it again because he noticed how store bought bread took weeks to go moldy, whereas homemade takes about 4 days- which is good because you know it's not full of preservatives, etc.  I would like to thank him for inspiring me to cook for my family and for caring enough about us growing up to make us bread for our lunches, even if our sandwiches were 2 inches thick!

If you're worried about carbs and what your kids are putting in their mouths, at least if you make it from home, you know that it's better than what's in that plastic bag at the grocery store.  I encourage you to try to make a loaf today, it's easy, I promise!

Happy Birthday Dad!

American Sandwich Bread:

3 3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp salt (I used kosher)
1 cup cold buttermilk (you can make your own w/ 1 tsp vinegar to 1 cup milk)
1/3 cup boiling water
2 1/4 tsp yeast (1 packet)
3 TBSP honey
2 TBSP unsalted butter, melted

1) Put 3 1/2 cups flour and the salt in bowl of mixer, fitted with dough hook.

2) Melt butter, combine with yeast, honey, boiling water, and buttermilk in a large measuring cup- mix.

3) Slowly pour liquid mixture into flour mixture.  When all liquid has been added, increase speed to medium.   If the dough appears too sticky, slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup flour.  Continue kneading on medium for 8 minutes.  The dough should be soft and not sticking to the sides of the bowl.  It will be slightly sticking to the bottom of the bowl, that is ok.

4) Oil a medium bowl, put the dough into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set in a warm area to rise until doubled in size, about 50-60 minutes.

5) Punch dough down, press into a rectangle about 9 inches wide.  Slowly roll into a tight cylinder and press the seam closed.  Grease a loaf pan and place the cylinder of dough into the pan, seam side down. Cover with plastic wrap again and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 20-30 minutes.

6) Preheat oven to 350'.  Place an empty cake pan on the bottom of the oven, pour 2 cups boiling water in the pan.  This will give moisture to the crust while the bread is baking.  Bake the bread 40-50 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted in the center gives a reading of 195'.

7) Remove from the oven, let cool for 10 minutes, remove from pan, set loaf on a wire rack and let cool completely.

Source:  Baking Illustrated
Slice it up
Gather your supplies:
Make a sandwich!
Note:  I do not solely make homemade bread, but if I have the time, I do.  When you have little ones like this, it's hard not to want to give them the good stuff!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Pecan Crusted Chicken

Have you ever wanted to marry your food?  Beware- you might want to marry this chicken.  While I was making it, I was just going over the proposal in my head..

My husband had texted me while he was at Whole Foods and asked me if I needed any meat.  I quickly grabbed my Cook's Illustrated Cookbook to find the fried chicken I wanted to try, but before I found it, I was sidetracked by the Pecan Crusted Chicken in the index.  I immediately went to that recipe and never looked back.

This chicken was relatively easy to make and well worth any extra effort it took (grinding pecans in food processor). Since there are toasted nuts and panko crumbs for the coating, this baked chicken still came out crispy and flavorful. The hint of lemon from the zest and the thyme really complimented the flavor, I was tempted to just eat the coating on its own!  It was such a hit at dinner, my grandmother told me it was the best chicken she's ever had (and she's 83!) If that's not a compliment, I don't know what is.

Add this to your menu for next week, you'll be glad you did!

Pecan Crusted Chicken:

Oven:  350'

4 boneless breast chicken, tenderloins removed
4 TBSP unsalted butter
1 shallot, chopped finely
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 cup pecans, coarsely ground (about 20 pulses in food processor)
1 cup panko bread crumbs
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 tsp thyme
1/2 cup flour
3 eggs

Preheat oven to 350' and set wire baking rack over a cookie sheet, set aside.

1) Prepare chicken by removing tenderloins, set aside.

2) Melt butter in 12 inch skilled until browned and bubbly.  Add the chopped shallot and salt and stir until fragrant, about 4 minutes.  Next, add chopped pecans and panko crumbs, occasionally stir until golden and toasted, about 8 minutes.

3) Remove pan from heat, pour crumb mixture into a shallow dish, such as a pie pan.  Mix in the lemon zest, thyme, and pepper.  Stir.

4) Put about 1/2 cup flour in a medium bowl.  Evenly coat the chicken in the flour.

5) Beat the eggs in another medium bowl.  Dip and coat the floured chicken with the egg mixture.

6) Place the egg coated chicken in the pie pan with the crumb mixture, evenly coat each piece with crumbs, lightly press to set the crumbs.  Place the chicken on a wire baking rack set over a cookie sheet and bake in oven for 20-30 minutes.

7) Serve with lemon wedges and enjoy!

Source:  Adapted from Cook's Illustrated Cookbook

Friday, April 20, 2012

Thin Crust Pizza (take two)

Every Friday since we lived in Japan, I make homemade pizza.  Since moving into our new house, for some reason, I really haven't been happy with how the pizza has been turning out.  I have been experimenting with different crust recipes, different procedures, and different cooking temps.  Be prepared to see pizza on here a lot in the upcoming month.  I have found two delicious ways to make deep dish pizza, and three different ways to make a thin crust, depending on what you're looking for.

The pizza restaurant I worked at through high school and college, had a pretty fluffy crust and thin, crispy bottom.  This is what I have achieved with this recipe.  The solution to my problem of a dry burnt cheese on top came to me about a month ago.  I was putting the pizza on a cold stone into a hot oven.  At the restaurant, the pizza went right into a hot oven on a hot surface- cooking the bottom faster, to help create a crispier texture.

I posted about pizza before, but I hate the picture I took and I found a different crust recipe that I think is easier and makes more dough.  This crust is of course, from America's Test Kitchen- Family Baking Book.

Pizza Crust:

4 cups bread flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 1/4 tsp yeast (1 packet)
2 TBSP olive oil
1 1/2 cup warm water
corn meal for dusting the bottom of the dough

1) Put pizza stone in oven.  Preheat to 450'.  Put flour, salt, and yeast in bowl of food processor fitted with the dough blade.  (If you don't have a food processor, you can use a stand mixer with the dough hook).  Pulse to combine

2) Add olive oil, pulse a few times to combine.  Pour in water, mix to combine into a ball, about 30 seconds.  Let rest for 30 seconds, then mix for two minutes to knead the dough.

3) Grease a bowl and place the dough in the bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm area until doubled, about 2 hours.  (I found that letting it go that extra 1/2 hr rising, makes a difference in the texture of the dough when cooked.  I usually make the dough at 2 in the afternoon for a 5 o'clock dinner).

4) Remove dough from bowl, divide in half.  Using one piece at a time, roll it on a counter lightly sprinkled with cornmeal (you can use a rolling pin or spread it with your hands, which will require more cornmeal).  Once dough is shaped, and you use your fingers to pinch a crust around the edges, careully lift the dough and place it on a lightly cornmealed pizza peel ( I still don't have a pizza peel, so I've been using a large cutting board- you can use the bottom of a rimmed cookie sheet too).  The cornmeal helps the pizza slide off the surface when you shake it into the oven.

5) Gently swirl sauce and sprinkle cheese and toppings onto pizza.  Carefully open the oven, pull out the rack with the hot stone on it.  Starting at the back side of the stone, slowly wiggle the peel or cutting board, the pizza should slide off of it onto the hot stone.  Close oven door and bake about 10-15 minutes until crust is light brown.

Source:  America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Photography Class

Those of you that know me, know I've taken an interest in photography the last few years.  Recently, I've been taking a course at a local community college about Digital Photography.  Thanks to my awesome totally knowledgeable teacher, I have learned many things, and seeing as Monday is my last day for this class, I figured I'd share the photos I've submitted for my homework.

If you have a local college nearby and you're interested in photography, you should take a class if you can.  I could have learned it all on my own (in all my free time)- but being in the class makes you do it and it is fun to see how other people have different perspectives on the assignment.

First class, getting a correct exposure:
Second class, learning about aperature.
Lowest f-stop number:
Highest f-stop number:
Third class, night time photo:
Fourth class, portrait:
Fifth class, still life:
Sixth class, Nature and action shots.
Monotonous content nature:
Macro nature:
Thanks for checking them out.  I can't wait to get my new camera and see what happens then!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Black Bean Burritos

Ok, if you know me, you might be thinking, "did she seriously make and eat black bean burritos?"  Yes, I did and in fact, I have made them MANY times!  All of my kids but one will eat them and it literally takes all of ten minutes to make- that sold me on the recipe right there.

When I was a kid, my mom made this 1,000,000 bean soup - no lie, there were that many beans in it.  She would not let us leave the table until we ate it.  It took some serious strategy to figure out how to make it disappear without eating it, but luckily I was sitting relatively close to the trash.  Since then, I have been averse to beans, with the exception of course to Boston Baked Beans.

This winter, I made some chili, which I will post about later, that had black beans in it.  They were surprisingly good.  I'm really trying to make more quality healthy meals for my family and I thought this recipe sounded good and I know beans are healthy.  I'm glad I tried it because I truly enjoyed it.  If you like black beans, give this a try, or if you've never cooked with them, give this a try- you might surprise yourself too.

Black Bean Burritos:
(Note:  this recipe can easily be cut in half, I have done that too)

2 cloves garlic
2 tsp canola oil
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp minced chipotle chili in adobo sauce (I omitted, but if you like spice, put it in)
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/3 cup water, chicken broth, OR vegetable broth
2 15-oz cans black beans, draine and rinsed
6 TBSP salsa

To serve:
flour tortillas
shredded cheddar cheese
sour cream
sliced green onion

1) Heat oil in skillet.  Add minced garlic into pan, along with chili powder, minced chipotle chili, and salt.  Cook until fragrant 30-40 seconds.

2) Add beans and water or broth to pan, bring to a boil over medium heat.  Reduce heat to a simmer for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.

3) Remove pan from heat, stir in salsa, and slightly mash up some of the beans with the back of a spoon.

4) Lay a tortilla on a plate, put on lettuce, cheese, and sour cream.  Scoop on the bean mix, top with chopped onion, roll up, and enjoy!

Source:  adapted from Pink Parsley, who adapted it from Cooking Light, January 2010

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Fruit Salad with Lime Vanilla Bean Dressing

A long long time ago, after I graduated from University of Chicago and we were getting ready to move to North Carolina, my friends that I worked for wanted to do something nice for Dave and I. They wanted to give us a Chicago experience we wouldn't have done for ourselves that would leave us with a lasting memory of our time living in the city.  The gift:  a dinner for two at Charlie Trotter's restaurant- the only 4-star restaurant in Chicago at the time.  It took two months just to get a reservation!!!

I was quite intimidated going into the restaurant.  I think that both Dave and I agree it was the BEST meal/experience we've ever had at a restaurant.  We liked it so much, he actually bought me the Charlie Trotter Cooks at Home cookbook.  That was over ten years ago and to this day, I have been too scared to make any of the recipes from it.  I usually thumb through it, make a mental note, close it, and never re open it.  This week, I went through the whole book, wrote down all the recipes I wanted to try, and even wrote the page numbers next to them.

I had to start off small, so I made an adapted version of his fruit salad- and oh my goodness, I LOVED it so much and I can't wait to try all the other recipes I have written down. This recipe was soo simple, but turned cut up fruit into something so much more by adding a lime/vanilla bean dressing (NOTE:  I do not normally eat pears and mangoes, but this brings them to a whole new level.) .  I altered his recipe because it called for olive oil in the dressing, along with onions and cantaloupe in the salad.  I'm sure I'm never going to like cantaloupe no matter what, so I used blueberries instead, but I'm thinking watermelon next time.  My kids, my sister, and anyone who tried it loved it.  With summer approaching and yummy fruit coming into season, I'm sure this simple recipe will come in handy to anyone who wants to give it a try.

Fruit Salad with Lime Vanilla Bean Dressing:

2 Mangoes, cut into 1 inch cubes
3 pears, cut into 1 inch cubes
1/2 pint blueberries
3 TBSP fresh squeezed lime juice from 1 lime (key lime is preferrable, but I just used a normal lime)
1 vanilla bean, scraped

1) Juice the lime, be sure to have at least 3 TBSP juice.  Put the juice into a small bowl.  Scrape the seeds from a vanilla bean into the lime juice.  While I cut my fruit, I left the bean pod soaking in the lime juice to extract more seeds and flavor.

2) Peel and cut fruit.  Place in serving bowl.

3) Pour lime vanilla bean juice into the bowl with the fruit, toss to coat.  Serve and enjoy!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Tuxedo Cake (take two)

Last year, before I moved from Japan, I made and posted about this triple layer chocolate Tuxedo cake from the Pastry Queen cookbook.  Well, the cake had tipped off the stand that was too small and I didn't know what I was doing with my camera, as far as lighting goes.  Seeing as I've come a bit further with my photo skills, I thought I'd remake the cake and use it as my subject for my still life assignment for my class.
Last night, Dave and I were having fun photographing the cake until 11 pm.  I'm teaching him everything I know so that when (and if) my new camera arrives, and I pass on my old one to him, he will be skilled.  I hope you like the new pictures as much as I do.
And, I just can't help but include this one- my daughter's ultimate favorite doll, sad baby- the other still life I submitted: