Saturday, January 31, 2009

My Recpie

Why does Julie get to have all the fun with the recipes? I am including one of my own, that my friend Doug Allord clued me in to. I had seen it before, but this one contained an actual recipe.

Here's what you need:

Bacon Explosion

2 pounds thick cut bacon
2 pounds Italian sausage
1 jar of your favorite barbeque sauce
1 jar of your favorite barbeque rub

Follow the instructions here, and then dial 911.

I personally think a nice twist would be to add a bunch of cheese and then beer batter the whole thing and deep fry it, along the lines of the video below. If you end up trying it, let me know!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Chunky Peanut Butter & Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Learn from my mistakes.  
For the sake of all that is good and right in the world (and your hips), 
do not make these cookies.  
And definitely do not add peanut butter chips to 
the dough.  

And definitely, whatever you do, do not sample the dough as you are scooping it onto the cookie sheets.  

Definitely do not bake the whole batch. 
BUT, in case you do not heed any of my warnings and go against everything I advised, will you please invite me over to help?

Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

3 Cups Quick-Cooking Oats
1 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
2 teaspoons Ground Cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon Freshly Grated Nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) Unsalted Butter, at room temperature
1 Cup Chunky Peanut Butter (I used Jif Super Chunky)
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Cup (packed) Light Brown Sugar
2 Large Eggs
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
8 ounces (a little over a cup) Milk Chocolate Chips
4 ounces (a little over 1/2 a cup) Peanut Butter Chips

1. Whisk together the oats, flour, baking soda, spices, and salt.
2. With an electric mixer, beat together the butter, peanut butter, and sugars in a large bowl until smooth and creamy.  Reduce mixer speed to medium-low and add the eggs one at a time, mixing until just combined, then beat in the vanilla.  Reduce mixer speed to low and add in oat and flour mixture, beating only until just blended.  Stir in the chocolate and peanut butter chips.  
3. Chill the dough for 2 hours.  I find it easier to scoop the dough onto cookie sheets and then chill, rather than trying to scoop rock-hard cookie dough.  The dough can also be frozen at this point.
4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
5. Place mounds of dough 2 inches apart on cookie sheets (if you have not already done this in step 3).
6. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, rotating the cookie sheet(s) half way through (front to back, top to bottom, if baking more than one sheet at a time).  The cookies should be golden and just firm around the edges.  Lift the cookies onto cooling racks with a thin metal spatula, they'll firm up as they cool.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

What goes on in our house

I thought I would share a story to explain what happens in our house. On Wednesday, Julie and I had pretty bad days. It started on Monday, when the furnace broke at our house, and we thought we were going to have to bring in a repair man. Luckily, I was able to fix it (fingers crossed). On Wednesday, Julie was using the treadmill and managed to statically shock the main control board, rendering it broken. Also on Wednesday our bank called and reported a fraudulent charge, so we are currently without debit cards.

In the midst of all this, Julie and I were a little "short" with each other, and Trav, sensing the tension in the house, decided to try to remedy the situation. In his words: "Party mustaches make everything better"

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Whole Wheat Bread with Hazelnuts and Currants

I was pretty bored last night, and as I was flipping through my bread book deciding what to make, I kept going right by the good (but boring sounding) "Country Bread" and landed at the "Whole Wheat Bread with Hazelnuts and Currants."  Yep, that sounded quite a bit more interesting than country bread!  And as I had both hazelnuts and currants on hand, I decided to go with it.  I mixed up the pre-ferment last night, and then this morning mixed and kneaded the final dough.  In a day marred by multiple malcontent moments, this bread is a bright spot.  The baking bread smelled incredible, and the final loaf tasted even better than I would have guessed.  No single flavor overwhelms the loaf, but the mixture of whole wheat flour, the tiny Zante currants, and the coarsely chopped, toasted hazelnuts blend beautifully.  Definitely not a boring bread, and perfect with a schmear of peanut butter. 

Quote of the day: 
"Anything with peanut butter is food filled with Jesus."  --E.M.

Monday, January 26, 2009

My Favorite Knives

After having several conversations regarding kitchen knives in the past few weeks, I feel compelled to throw my two cent's worth out into the world.  I'm not saying you should rush out and buy all new knives, or continue on using that set of knives you got as a bridal shower gift 10, 15, or 30 years ago.  However - be forewarned, I very likely will bring my own kitchen knives with me if I come to your house to cook!
I actually have quite a few knives, but more and more often, I fall back on these same five knives.  Honestly, I'm thinking of getting rid of my drawerful of still-very-good-but-I-don't-use-them knives.  I just like these five and use these five over and over and over again, with complete disregard for all the others, and would highly recommend each of these knives to anyone.
First off, I have a bunch of pairing knives.  And I am a sucker for bright, colorful little knives.  Blue!  You Bet!  Red!  Hooray!  Yellow!  Fantastic!  Useful?  Not really.  I'm not really into the "color-coded" tool movement (use red for poultry, blue for beef, etc), as I usually forget what color was for what food, and usually just use the yellow one for cheese because cheese is kinda yellow, etc.  Sorry, got on a tangent there.  Here is my favorite pairing knife:

It has a nifty little case, is bright red, and is stinkin' sharp.  It is a 
Kukon Rikon Colori pairing knife, and costs about $10.  This is a great little knife for slicing cheese, cutting and coring apples, and doing more detailed work, like separating broccoli florets for a veggie tray.  
Next up is my utility knife:

  I really like this knife.  It is a Kyocera micro-serrated utility knife with a ceramic blade.  Prices range from $40-$70.  It is just a little bit bigger than a pairing knife and a little smaller than a chef's knife, so this is kind of a catch-all-jobs type of knife.  This is one that I'll throw in my bag if I'm heading over to a friend's or family member's house if I'll be doing any sort of cooking.  It is lightweight, a good size, and crazy sharp.  And the ceramic blade doesn't dull like steel knives - definitely a plus.  It doesn't come with a knife/blade guard, but they're easy enough to find online.

If you've seen Rachel Ray cook, or read The Pioneer Woman blog, you're probably familiar with a santoku knife.  It is a combination between a chef's knife and a butcher's knife.  I have two of these, which I go back and forth between pretty often, depending on my mood.  

I have a Wustof Classic Santoku knife ($70) with a 7" blade and 

a Komachi Fish Knife  with a 4 1/2" blade ($25).  If I'm chopping a bunch of onions, carrots, celery, potatoes, etc, I'll go with the larger knife.  And if I'm only dicing half an onion to add to something, I go with the little one.  My thought - big job = big knife, little job = little knife.  The Wustof knife is THE one that got me through culinary school.  Oh, and I don't just use the Komachi one for fish.  
However, if I were to combine these two knives into one, I've been eyeing up this knife.  Awesome blade - check.  Great size - check.  Price - errr.....

Last up is my bread/serrated knife.  

I just got this one with a gift certificate for Christmas. It is only $20 and is also made by Kukon Rikon and is their Non-stick Colori Bread Knife.  It is by far the sharpest bread knife I've ever had.  I love when knives come with sheaths, as this one does.  This one came in handy for our "Bread and Blankets" day at my aunt Ruth's house.  
I won't talk about Ruth's knives.  My culinary soul is saddened when I open her knife drawer.
Also, a note on sharpening knives.  I have one of these sharpeners and love it.  It is cheap, easy to use, and is magnetic so it sticks to my fridge.  After I use a knife four or five times, I run it through the sharpener 6 or 7 times.  That keeps the knives sharp and ready to use with minimal effort.  These only cost between $5 and $10, and I find them at ShopKo or online.  I usually replace it each year.

So there you go!  I hope you have enjoyed this tour through my knife drawer.  
Oh!  I realized I forgot to mention one of the most important ones!

Got to get butter on my toast somehow!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bread and Blankets

Today I went up to Wausau and met up with my mom, Aunt Ruth, cousin Laura, friend Katie, friend Shelley and her daughter Morgan for what we coined "Bread & Blankets."  For a fun project, Shelley thought of making tied fleece blankets to donate to one of the local hospitals' maternity wards (do they still call them that, or do they now have fancy names like "Happy New Birth Center?") where she works.  Each of us brought enough fleece to make a blanket or two, and then I also brought bread dough to bake bread while we worked.  We had a great time admiring the fabrics others brought, laying them out, cutting the sides and tying the edges to make cozy, soft blankets. In all we made nine blankets to donate, ate the whole loaf of bread, and are looking forward to doing this again soon!  If you are interested in doing something similar with your friends, let me know and I can connect you with Shelley!

Thursday, January 22, 2009


This is a pictorial reason why we don't buy our cats toys very often. Julie splurged on a toy we affectionately call a "smacky". It's a weird toy that has a hole in it you fill with catnip by jamming that catnip plastic cylinder into it. Nothing morbid about that...

Here is what happened:

Norm: Oooh! New toy, fun!

10 seconds later: Toy scary! Run away!

Storm: Hmm... New toy

10 seconds later: Loss of all interest

Next 12 hours: Pure sack of lazy

Ah the joys of having a cat....

My Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies

This is it.  Other ones may have fancy additions like toasted hazelnuts or froo-froo berries, but for a good, ol' chocolate-y chocolate chip cookie, Alton Brown's got it covered.  The only tiny thing I add is a sprinkling of kosher salt right on top of the cookie before baking.  Salty, sweet, milk chocolate buttons, and tons of yummy.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Battle AGAINST the Bulge

So, to try to combat the steady stream of sweets and breads making their way out of my kitchen, every now and then I do make an attempt at being active.  That typically involves the treadmill or free weights, but tonight I did something much more amusing.  I met up with my Aunt Ruth and we took a Cross Country Ski Lesson!  The Nordic Ski Club of Wausau was giving free lessons tonight at Nine Mile Forest & Ski Area, which included free use of rental equipment and no charge for the trail pass.  We went fully expecting to spend the evening on our hineys, laughing hysterically, and generally making fools of ourselves.  Well, we actually didn't do half bad!  The place was packed, and there were plenty of newbies and loads of instructors and semi-experienced skiers as well.  We ended up in a very small group which was just Ruth and I, one other lady, and our instructor.  We got the hang of it pretty quickly, and as long as we didn't stray too far from our "tracks" we did well.  Yes, we did bite it a time or two, but were able to get right up and kept moving along.  All in all, it was a beautiful night to be outside, we got to try a fun new activity, and neither of us broke any bones.  Definitely a success!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Shaping & Baking

By now, you are probably ready to be done with this bread.  
Just hold onto your panties, it's coming, and it's gonna be good!

The dough has been folded and risen a number of times (about 2 1/2 - 3 hours total).   If you plan to bake your bread on a baking stone, have a couple of sheet pans ready and lined with parchment paper and sprinkled with cornmeal or flour.  Otherwise, sprinkle the sheet pan directly with the cornmeal, and the bread can be baked right there. 
Now you are ready to divide up the dough.  

Gently dump the dough from the bowl to a floured work surface. 
 I divided mine into three 1 1/4 pound loaves.

  Cup your hands around a portion of dough, and slowly begin to work it into a tight round shape. 

 The key to this move is to keep the sides of your pinkie fingers on the table surface at all times, and just shift your hands around in a clockwise/counterclockwise fashion (whichever feels more natural!), shaping the loaf.  

Add a little flour to your hands if the dough is sticking.  If you lift up the round, the bottom should be pretty much sealed over, without any big pockets or folds.
Shift the round to a sheet pan (only put one portion of dough on each sheet pan).  

Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and allow it another hour and a half to rise.  
After an hour has passed, begin preheating your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.  If you are using a baking stone, make sure it is in there before you turn your oven on.
The next step is an optional one, and depends on if you have the equipment.  
You can happily slide your bread (along with the parchment paper) right onto your baking stone (or just stick the pan in the oven) and be oh-so-close to having fresh bread.  
However, you also can try your hand at scoring a pattern into the surface of the bread.  This requires what bakers refer to as a lame (pronounced lamb), or baker's blade

 Essentially, it is a very sharp, curved razor blade.  If you have a new, clean, sharp razor blade or exacto knife, go for it, just quickly (but gently) slash a few cuts into your bread.  You may need to very gently hold the dough on either side of the cut in order for the edge to slice through.  

As you can see, my lame needs to be replaced and did a rather pitiful job of cutting through.  This took several slices into each cut in order to make them deep enough.  Oh well, the point is made.  
Now - get that bread in the oven!  

The size of your loaves and your oven will determine how long it takes to bake.  Each of my three medium-sized loaves took 20 minutes on the baking stone.  If you made two larger loaves, give it 25-30 minutes.  If you baked on sheet pans, they may take even longer, say, 30-35 minutes.  The end result should be a deep golden brown, and when you take the loaf out, you should be able to tap on the bottom of it and hear a hollow sound.  If you have a instant-read thermometer, go ahead and jab it in the bottom - it should read at about 200 degrees.  If you can stand it, let the bread rest for about 10-30 minutes before cutting.  Right, and unicorns made it onto Noah's Ark as well.  Slice it, tear it, and fight it out of your family members' hands (as they will surely have made an appearance at this point!).  
As mine was baking, I made a big pot of Cauliflower Soup.  This is an awesome soup-dipping bread, and Trav, Justin and I easily polished off one of the loaves of bread.  

Let the extra loaves cool completely, then wrap in plastic or in a zip-top bag and freeze.  When you are ready to serve it, stick it in a 360 degree oven (remove the plastic, for heaven's sake!) for about 15 minutes - fresh again!  
If you have any questions about the process, or comments about how yours turned out, I'd love to hear them!

The Need to Knead

Ready for the the next step?  
My pre-ferment has been sitting for a good 16 hours, and is pretty much ready to go.  It only takes a minute to mix up the final dough. 

In a second bowl add the following ingredients:
1 1/2 cups Warm Water
1/2 tsp Instant Yeast (OR 1 Tablespoon Active Dry Yeast)
9.6 oz (2 1/4 cups) Unbleached Bread Flour
3.2 oz (3/4 cup) Whole Wheat Flour
3.2 oz (7/8 cup) Rye Flour*
1/2 Tablespoon Kosher Salt

Mix with a spatula or wooden spoon until combined.  Continue to mix, and gradually add in chunks of the pre-ferment.  As you can see, I already have everything in my stand-mixer bowl, so I could transfer it right to the mixer in order to knead it (using the spiral or dough hook attachment).  

(I love my new apron.  My mom made it.  Yeah, she rocks.)

You can certainly knead it by hand as well, just flour your work surface and have at it.  Pound it, smoosh it, pull it, smack it, fold it, etc etc for a good 8-10 minutes.  
Or, if you have a stand mixer, just turn it to medium-low speed and walk away for 4-6 minutes.  I washed out the bowl I had the pre-ferment in at this point.  I ended up adding about another half a cup of flour to my dough as it was being worked.  

The dough will be pretty soft and moderately loose, but it shouldn't be wet or falling apart.  Spray a bowl with non-stick cooking oil and dump in the kneaded dough.  Cover with plastic wrap and seal again with the rubber band.  And let it sit for an hour.  Go ahead, check your email.  Do a load of laundry.  After an hour or so has passed, sprinkle some flour on your work surface and carefully scrap the dough out of the bowl.  

All you have to do here is fold the dough in half a time or two.  Simply (and gently!) grab one edge of it and pull it over to the opposite side.  You don't want to push or knead it anymore, we're just folding it a bit.  I spray the bowl with a little bit more cooking spray at this point, but you can make the call, depending on how much the dough stuck to the bowl in the first place.  Cover it up again, seal it off, and again - just let it sit and rise for another hour.  After this second hour, you'll fold it one more time, in exactly the same fashion.  

Then, it will rise for another half hour, and you'll be ready to shape it into loaves.

*I was SURE I had rye flour when I started this recipe last night.  But alas, when I opened my pantry this morning, there was none to be found.  I just added extra whole wheat flour in its place.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Make Bread with Me!

Alright, get out your flour and yeast and let's get some dough mixed.  I've adapted the Rustic Bread recipe from Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes, by Jeffry Hamelman.  This is a terrific, detailed guide to making just about every type of bread under the sun, and I haven't come across a dud yet.  This recipe will yield 2 large, or 3-4 small- to medium-sized loaves.

So here we go.  Tonight, mix up the "pre-ferment."  This is your starter dough.  This is incredibly easy to stir together, it sits overnight, and will add a ton of flavor to your final bread.  

In a bowl add the following ingredients:
13.4 oz (1 3/4 cups) Warm Water
1/8 tsp Instant Dry Yeast (OR 3/4 tsp Active Dry Yeast)
1 lb (3 5/8 cups) Unbleached Bread Flour
.4 oz (heaping 1/2 Tablespoon) Kosher Salt

Combine with a spatula or wooden spoon until thoroughly mixed.  The dough will be stiff, dense, and a bit scraggly, but you shouldn't have any dry flour.  Add a few drops of water at a time if necessary to moisten it, or, if it is very wet, add a tablespoon of flour at a time.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and seal with a rubber band.  Let sit 12-16 hours.  The pre-ferment will be domed and beginning to recede a bit in the center when it is ready to use (though we'll see a picture of that tomorrow!).

Friday, January 16, 2009

For the Birds

I just thought this was kind of a funny picture, and thought I'd share it.  I stopped by our building to make sure everything was okay with the freezing temperatures (everything was), and out in the sun flitting about the cars were about fifty of these puffy little birds.  They were obviously trying to glean what little bit of warmth there was from the sunshine!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ciabatta Rolls

I love ciabatta bread.  I love what a great, chewy bread it is, but with giant, irregular air pockets so that it doesn't feel quite as heavy or filling as a rustic or country bread.  A wonderful yeasty smell without being overwhelming, and a crust that has just enough bite to it to be substantial, but without breaking into a billion shards.  Not necessarily the best of "soup" breads, but great for sandwiches and paninis, or just a roll with a dinner.  But sorry, this isn't one of those "super easy, no kneading, hardly takes any time" breads.  This one begins the night before by mixing up a starter, or "poolish," which the next day is added to additional flour, yeast, salt and water to make the final dough.  Then it rises for 3 hours, and has to be turned out and folded after each hour, and then shaped into loaves or rolls, then risen again for another 1 1/2 - 2 hours, and then finally baked.  But oh, the outcome.  Delicious, delicious ciabatta!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Storm's Favorite Toy

We don't buy toys for our cats.  Once in a blue moon someone will give them a toy, which we douse in catnip and both cats will rub their faces on said toy, lick all the catnip off said toy, and then lay in a corner, completely dazed for about 30 minutes.  But what really gets them going?  This specific little crumpled up cough drop wrapper.  No kidding.  Justin threw this down for Storm to play with about TWO MONTHS ago, and she still plays with the silly little booger almost every day.  As we can all see in the photograph, it is very obviously the coolest thing on the planet.

Gougeres (aka Cheese Puffs)

Obviously, since these have a fancy french name, I'm not talking about the neon orange "cheesy" styrofoam peanuts at the store.  Nope, I'm talking about honest-to-goodness savory pate a choux (pronounced paat-aa-shoe), or cream puff dough, with shredded Gruyere cheese mixed in.  Since I got Pastry Cream out of the way yesterday, I figured I would conquer all my silly, completely unfounded kitchen phobias.  Pate a choux is even easier than pastry cream.  No worries about curdled eggs or lumpy custards, just mixing a dough in a saucepan and then shifting it to a mixing bowl to add the eggs.  I think I made about a gazillion cream puffs in school, as they were always a hit at fundraisers, and you bake what you know people like (and will give money for).  The next step is just to combine my last two projects, and make real cream puffs or eclairs, filled with that psychotically good vanilla pastry cream.  Oh crud.  I think I just gained 3 pounds just writing about it.  

Monday, January 12, 2009

What was I so afraid of?!

Pastry Cream.  What I remember most about making pastry cream in culinary school was being totally stressed out by it - and everyone else being stressed about it too.  I know that we made it, and that it tasted phenomenal, but somehow the stress turned into some sort of fear that it wouldn't turn out if I made it at home.  That it would take forever, or curdle, or burn, or do something strange that I would never recover from.  Something like that.  But you know what? It was, well, easy!  The milk came to a simmer just fine, the eggs were tempered just fine, and then it only took about 5 minutes for the mixture to thicken and turn to a nice, thick, smooth custard.  Half was saved as vanilla to make a Boston Cream Pie for Welcome to Woodlands, and the other half was mixed with some chocolate to make a Triple Chocolate Cream Cake for our friend Lincoln's birthday.  And oh, the taste, the mouth-feel, the fresh vanilla bean smell.  Won-Der-Ful.  

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Fig & Walnut Biscotti

I got an email from Jenn a couple of days ago, saying that this might be the recipe that she would actually try baking.  After several emails back and forth it was decided that I would bake them, but that she would come over and keep me company during the process.  It turns out it is a pretty good "visiting" type of cookie to bake.   You mix up the dough, then stick it in the fridge (and sit down and talk), then it goes from the fridge to the oven (again, opportunity to sit and talk), then allow it to cool (insert sitting and talking here), and then cut it and bake it again.  End result being lots of sitting and talking and some incredibly yummy, fragrant, not overly crunchy biscotti.  And actually, about halfway through the afternoon Jenn had to take her daughter to play practice, but they made sure to stop by afterwards to try some of the results of the day.   By the way, I ran into some dried Mission  "Figlets" at Woodman's, and that is what "we" used.  Well, and you can see that I drizzled them with a little bit of melted Ghirardelli double chocolate.  I'll definitely be making these again!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Caramel Spice Cake (PLUS)

Today's recipe is a very homey, warm, comforting, granny-esque type of cake.  And I totally changed the name from the original (here) because I actually took it somewhere and didn't want people scared off by it.  Oh, and you know they would be - people don't actually rush forward when you say, "Oh this, just a little prune cake I whipped up."  But when  you rename it to "Caramel Spice Cake," that evokes a slightly more positive response.  Well, whatever you call it, it was very well received and really quite delicious.  I didn't boil the caramel topping quite as long as I should have (because it was getting late) but it was still sweet and yummy, and of course, good for your innards!