Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Holiday Season Is Upon Us

This is the time of year in which many cultures and religions celebrate many holidays.  Typically, when holidays are celebrated there is a meal at the center of the celebration that brings people together.  Even in our 3 person family, we use food to celebrate the holidays.

This brings food to the forefront of an awful lot of thought for me.  Because I do love to bake and cook, I like to break out those recipes that I shouldn’t eat all year long.  It also gives me a great excuse to play in the kitchen and to try recipes I’ve stashed away all year waiting for a reason to try them.

This year I am not in a good place with my weight.  While I’m not brave enough to share the actual numbers of my weight with you, I will say that as of the typing of this blog that I am 8 pounds above the top range of what I would ideally like to be.  That top range number is not even where I like to be but rather a warning number for myself that I need to set the fork down more often than I am picking it up.

I don’t know what happened.  Usually summer is my nemesis.  The loose schedule of the summer leads me to places I should not be going with my food consumption.  I have learned this over the years and I managed to get through summer only 2 pounds above my high range weight.  I considered this an accomplishment because at the end of last summer I was 12 pounds above that number.  I think relief set in after I saw that and I relaxed a little too much once fall set in.  Last week I was exactly where I was at the end of last summer…12 pounds above that high end number.  The number that is supposed to keep me from getting in any worse shape.

I now find myself just a couple weeks before Thanksgiving with weight to lose and holiday food to prepare and eat.  I have been doing very well with staying on track and am in a very good state of mind regarding my food.  I know miracles will not happen and prefer the slower weight loss (did I just say that?) because I do know that ultimately weight lost in the proper (slow) way tends to stay off longer.  Therefore, I need to figure out what is going to happen Thanksgiving day. 

Today I planned my Thanksgiving meal.  It’s nothing fancy, I guarantee you, but it helps me to have a plan so I can decide how to tackle it regarding my weight and my preference of trying to do it in a more natural way.

Here’s what I have planned:

Mashed Potatoes
Butter Rolls
Apple Turnovers
Something Pumpkin

See, nothing special at all.  However, I need to look further and figure out how I can best keep all of this low in points for my Weight Watcher’s plan and on budget for my eating “more conscious” plan. 

I’ve done some research and here it goes…..


While turkey is the easiest as far as Weight Watchers goes, it’s a hard go when it comes to being more conscious. 

I’ve done some looking around online and have found that there are no conscious turkey farms that are too close by.  Even if there were some close by, we are talking anywhere from $3.49 a pound to $4.99 a pound.  I do pay these prices for some of the meat that we buy but it is usually boneless and I can buy it in smaller amounts so it’s easier to handle financially. 

I found that the average Thanksgiving turkey is 12-16 pounds.  With those prices you are looking at anywhere between $41.88 (for a 12 pound turkey at $3.49 a pound) to $79.84 (for a 16 pound turkey at $4.99 a pound).  I know, I know…they’re free-range, organic, better for the environment and the farmer’s health.  I visited a community organic farm on a field trip with my son last year and I was so loving the vibe of the place.  This farm is about 50 minutes from my home, which I’d be willing to drive if the price was right.  However, they say they have few turkeys at less than 16 pounds and their members get first choice at turkeys so I would not be guaranteed a smaller turkey if I were to order one.  So let’s say that I have to get an 18 pound turkey at $4.50 a pound.  $81.00.  Say I have to take a 20 pound turkey.  $90.00.  I’m all for doing what I can to eat better and help the environment and keep the earth healthy but jeez Louise!! 

With all that said, I am buying a turkey from a local supermarket.  Maybe I will just have to settle with buying from a smaller, very local chain to feel better about my purchase.  At least I’m not going to a big chain.  Does it make much difference?  Probably not but I think that is all I will be able to do as far as my turkey goes this year.

Mashed Potatoes

At Thanksgiving I like to break out the Death by Butter mashed potato recipe.  Check it out.  I saw it on a local show that reviews restaurants.  Butter, cream, asiago cheese, more butter.  It’s absolutely amazing.  If I had my choice to die of anything, it would indeed be by these potatoes. 

Since my weight is not going to go anywhere but up if I make these, I will be passing these up this year.  I was going to try to modify it but it is the butter that makes these what they are.  I will probably do the skinny mashed potato thing where you boil the potatoes in chicken broth then mash them with some of the chicken broth.  I’d like to “fancy” them up a bit so perhaps some I will look to the other recipe for that.  Asiago is such a strong tasting cheese that a little can go a long way. 

I always buy organic potatoes and chicken broth so this is very easy to work with my plan to be more conscious.


I don’t make gravy.  You know how some things you have the knack for and some you do not?  Well, gravy is in my “do-not-have-the-knack-for” list. 

We are very lucky to have Willow Tree Farm in this area and they sell their gravy at a close by supermarket.  It’s not all those conscious things I want it to be but it is at least local. 

A ¼ cup of their gravy has 30 calories and 1.5 grams of fat.  It tastes much better than the jarred and canned gravy I have bought in the past.  It’s $0.99 for a 2 cup tub of it. 

How can this girl who can’t make gravy go wrong?


This is not an issue for me as I don’t eat it. 

I will make homemade bread for the stuffing and buy as many organic ingredients that I can find for it which usually isn’t too hard. 

The chicken broth, as I mentioned above, I always have on hand.  Celery is often reasonable.  I will have to see what else my boys will want in it.  They are always willing to try a new recipe with different ingredients.  Once we decide on a recipe, I will better know how well I can do with this one but so far, I feel good about it.

Butter Rolls

Rolls, rolls, rolls.  This has always been the highlight of any holiday meal for me.  Bread is one of my huge weak spots. 

Because this is one thing I really enjoy, I will make what I want the way it is supposed to be made.  The recipe is out of a bread machine cookbook that I have from over 10 years ago and it is just what is says it is…a buttery roll. 

These have eggs, sugar and of course butter in them.  All those things that make a roll taste so wonderful.  What I am going to do is make the smallest batch of these with organic sugar, local eggs and maybe even organic butter.

I will not be making these in a bread machine but the good thing about the bread machine cookbook is that for each recipe they have the ingredient amounts for small, medium and large loaves or batches of dough for rolls. 

The small makes 8, which is plenty for the 3 of us.  That means I will eat 2 of these. If we each have 2 with dinner there will be 2 leftover and I will just let the boys have the extra 2 with their leftovers.  I usually make the “large” which makes 16 rolls so we have enough for all our leftovers through the weekend.

Apple Turnovers

On a whim I bought a box of puff pastry at Trader Joe’s a while ago.  I had no real plans for it but had read how good it was and since it was a frozen product, I bought it so I’d have it on hand to play with when the mood struck me. 

Just recently I saw a recipe for apple turnovers in a Prevention Magazine email newsletter.  Their emphasis was on portion control since it was still using puff pastry and sugar in the recipe. 

Portion control is my issue.  With having puff pastry on hand and a recipe for apple turnovers, I now have a solution for my portion issues. 

When I cut a pie we get about 6 slices out of it and it’s gone in a day with the 3 of us eating it.  Knowing myself, I feel that having a dessert that is already baked in an individual portion will help me with portion size since I cannot cut it too large, it’s the size it is.  Sure, I could eat more than 1 but I am less likely to this way. 

The apples I will be using for these are from a farm in Northborough, MA so they are local.  They are not organic but their website says they use integrated pest management.  This method controls the way in which they use pesticides so that they do not use as many of them…as far as I understand. 

The Trader Joe’s puff pastry has 5 ingredients in it that are completely recognizable; flour, butter, salt, sugar and water.  Pepperidge Farms puff pastry has 8 ingredients in it which include hydrogenated vegetable shortening and high fructose corn syrup. 

Something Pumpkin

Something pumpkin? What is this? 

Since I do not like pumpkin, I don’t consider this an issue for myself.  I let the boys figure out what they want and then I make it for them. 

I have canned organic pumpkin in my cupboard right now so that is about all I know about what I can do for this part of the meal right now.  Typically they ask for pie but I would like to see if I can do something a little different this year for them.  It will likely still be pie but there are a lot of pumpkin pie variations out there and I want to play with something new!

There’s my breakdown of how I plan for this holiday dinner to go down.  I know I can do it; I have in the past and plan to this year.  Sometimes the 3 day weekend after the holiday itself is harder than the day of the holiday.  What I have to remember is a saying that one of my favorite Weight Watcher’s leader said one year:

It’s a holi-DAY, not a holi-WEEK.

With that, I will leave you to consider what you might do this holiday season to help yourself out with your goals and priorities.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Cranberry Raisin Walnut Beer Bread

I’ve been making beer bread for about a year now.  In case you haven’t tried it and are wondering, it’s wonderful.  It’s as easy as can be and tastier than you’d imagine for something that takes such little effort.  The coup de gras of this bread is the butter you put on top.  You see, you melt a bunch of butter (salted is my choice) and you pour it all over the bread before it bakes.  This results in the most fabulous buttery, salty crust E-V-E-R!

The recipe is simple enough and you can find a bunch of results when you search on Google for a recipe for it.  The basis of all of them is pretty much the same.  You will find one with self-rising flour and one without that adds a healthy dose of baking powder to compensate for not using self-rising flour.  There are many variations of this recipe-some savory and some sweet. 

I have no idea if this particular version of this bread is out there, I haven’t looked.  I am sure I am not the first person though to think of putting dried fruit and nuts into this bread.  It seems a good combination.  The tart of the cranberries, the sweet of the raisins, the crunch of the nuts along with that crust…did I mention how amazing the crust is?  Yeah, I am sure I have.

Here is the recipe.  Not sure who to credit it back to, as I said, it’s all over the internet.  So I suppose I can just say:

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
12 ounces beer
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cups toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped*
1/4 cup salted butter, melted and cooled

Preheat oven to 375 and grease a loaf pan very well.

Put flour, baking powder, sugar and salt into mixing bowl.  Whisk dry ingredients together to incorporate baking powder, sugar and salt into the flour.  Have you ever eaten something and gotten a mouthful of un-mixed-in baking powder or soda?  If not, let me tell’s not good. 

Crack open the beer and pour it right into the dry ingredients…don’t take a sip, you won’t have enough for your recipe.  Mix thoroughly. 

Add all the dried fruits and nuts into the batter and stir until they are evenly mixed in.

Pour all of this into your prepared loaf pan and smooth out the top of the loaf.  Take your melted butter and pour it evenly all over the top of the unbaked loaf.  You may need to get a pastry brush to even it out a little.  Don’t worry if some of it drips down between the batter and the pan.

Pop this baby in the oven for about an hour.  The crust will start to turn a lovely golden brown color and I use the toothpick test to check to see when it’s done…if your toothpick comes out clean, you’re done!  Cool in the pan for a little bit, about 15 minutes or so.  Turn out onto a cooling rack and try to resist cutting into it until it is cool.

*You can toast your nits in the oven or the stove top.  I choose the stove top because I tend to forget when they are in the oven.

To toast on the stovetop:  Put nuts in a skillet and stir over low to medium heat until they are toasted.  It doesn’t take too long and you want to be sure that you watch them carefully as it doesn’t take long for them to start to burn.

To toast in the oven:  Heat oven to 350.  Put nuts on a baking sheet and keep an eye on them, stirring every few minutes.  Again, it doesn’t take too long just make sure you pull them out before they go too far!

Here are my usual notes about what I used:


As in the previous post for the pizza sauce, I used Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Sugar.  Their website is finally back up so you can check them out now.  I have not noticed any change in anything I’ve used this product with.  I really am glad I made the switch. 


I’ve recently switched to Cabot butter instead of buying the BJs brand of butter.  As with the Cabot cheeses I’ve used in previous recipes, I can find this for a good price at a small grocery store nearby.  Cabot is a farm co-op and their farmers pledge to keep hormones out of their milk.


I usually use King Arthur, as you may know if you’ve read previous baking posts on my blog.  However, with the new Wegman’s in the area, I have been buying 2-5lb bags of their unbleached flour each time we go there.  Until the end of the year they are only $0.99 at this new store.  They limit it to 2 per customer so I will keep buying 2 bags each time we go until the end of the year and will then switch back to my beloved King Arthur flour.

Dried Fruits and Nuts

As much as I would like to say these are all organic, they are not.  Have you seen how expensive nuts are lately?  They are not cheap.  I’ve never even looked for organic nuts but I am guessing Whole Foods has them.  Even so, I have a hard time forking the money over for them at BJs in a club pack so I am quite sure I’d gasp at the price of organic nuts!  As for the dried fruits, I don’t usually pick these out.  I do not like dried fruits to snack on or in baked goods so my husband usually picks out what he wants to put in his nightly snack of a mix of nuts, dried fruits and chocolate chips.  Dried fruit, other than raisins, can get expensive just like nuts can.  I will look into it next time I go shopping and see how it compares.  If it’s not a big jump in price, I may make the switch.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Sweet Pizza Sauce

Hellooooooooo.  I am back.  I never really left but just found it hard to blog in the summer.  The fall came and I fell off track horribly with my eating, gained a bit of weight and have been resisting making anything that I felt was blog-worthy.

Although this may seem like a very un-blog-worthy recipe, I felt like I had finally found my go-to pizza sauce and wanted to share it with you.

Let me preface this recipe with a story about a little pizza place in my hometown called Pizza Oven.  Anyone who is reading this who has been away from Pizza Oven, like myself, is likely drooling at the thought of this little hole in the wall pizza joint. A trip back home is not complete without getting a tray pizza and a bucket of wings and sharing it with my mom, step-father, brother and step-grandfather.  It’s one of the most gluttonous moments I have each year.  I eat as much of that pizza as I can that night and I don’t care.  Those who know Pizza Oven know what I am speaking of.

Pizza Oven has a very sweet sauce.  One in which I’ve been trying to mimic for years.  I add sugar to my sauce and while it’s sweet, it does not have the something special about it that Pizza Oven’s sauce has.  I have never been able to figure out what it is that makes their sauce tastes like it does.  I have had a discussion with my friend Michele about this and while both of us do a lot of tinkering in the kitchen, we can’t crack the secret.

I am not going to say that this recipe is a clone for Pizza Oven but it is the closest I have ever come to making a sweet sauce that doesn’t just taste like I added a bunch of sugar to some canned tomato product.

I made the sauce and used it the same day and really enjoyed it.  It’s actually a Papa John’s copycat recipe.  I know, I know…chain pizza?  Yes.  I love Papa John’s and while there was never one really close to us, there was one that was close enough but it has closed.  There are still a couple around but are too far to drive for take-out, even this one we used to use was pushing it as far as distance.  The sauce seemed to mimic Papa John’s very well.  I had tried to mimic their dough as well and I felt quite happy with the result.

Next day I needed a quick lunch so I took a Flat-Out wrap and made a pizza with it and used some of the leftover sauce.  Topped it with some sliced up leftover sausage and mozzarella cheese and had myself a little pizza.  As I sat there and ate my pizza I could not help but notice how the flavor of the sauce had developed over night in the fridge.  There were certain bites that were very reminiscent of Pizza Oven.  Even on a light Flat Out wrap.

I then made another pizza with the sauce on a beer bread crust.  I had seen a blog using the beer bread recipe as pizza crust and thought it was a brilliant idea.  Quick and easy…no kneading, no rise time.  I had told my husband how the sauce was reminding me of Pizza Oven and as he started to eat the pizza on the beer bread crust, he did not think so.  Then, somewhere during his second piece, he declared that he understood what I was saying. 

There is something about this sauce that almost gets it.  There has to be enough of the sauce in the bite of pizza as well as the cheese being just right.  It’s going to take a lot of tweaking to make any pizza taste like Pizza Oven but I feel like I at least have a start with this sauce.  As anyone who’s had the pizza knows, their crust is a bit different too and I feel like that maybe even more of a challenge than the sauce.  No, I will likely never make a perfect Pizza Oven clone but if I can manage a bite or two of a homemade pizza that brings me to the oblivion I feel when I eat Pizza Oven, I’ll take it for now until we get back home to get the real deal.

Sweet Pizza Sauce

Adapted from:’s message boards (which is Todd Wilbur’s copycat recipe for Papa John’s sauce)

1 28 ounce can of tomato puree
3 tbsp sugar
3 tsp olive oil
3/4 tsp lemon juice
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp oregano
1/8 tsp basil
1/8 tsp thyme
1/8 tsp garlic

It’s as easy as putting all these ingredients into a saucepan, mixing them up, bringing them all to a boil over medium heat and then lowering the hear and simmering for 15-20 minutes. 

Now, I used it right away.  Of course I let it cool a little before I put it on the raw pizza dough.  However, if you read all my blah, blah, blah above you will know that I preferred the more developed flavor of the sauce after it had sat in the fridge overnight.

(If you looked at the recipe in the link I provided for where I got the recipe from, you will notice that they added water to the recipe.  I did not forget to include it, I left it out.  I felt that once I had the other ingredients together that I liked the consistency of the sauce.  I felt that adding water to it would have made it way too thin.) 

As always, a few notes about the ingredients:

Tomato puree

I could do a whole year’s worth of blogging about Wegmans but I will keep this short and tell you that I used Wegmans Organic Tomato Puree and cannot be happier that I now have a Wegmans close enough to be able to use their products.  I usually use Muir Glen which I find at Trucci’s for about $2.69-$2.89 a can.  Wegmans brand is $1.69 so I am thrilled.  I have about 6 cans of it in my cupboard right now.  This is the base ingredient for any sauce I make since I can’t do any chunk at all in my sauce.  I’m just way too picky for my own good.


I had mentioned a while back in one of my blogs that I had spotted organic sugar at BJs Wholesale Club.  At the time I hadn’t quite convinced myself that it was worth it but have since changed my mind.  What brought me to my decision was that the sugar is unbleached and it’s fair trade.  Buying it at a wholesale club makes it much more affordable...if they did not have it, I would not be buying it.

Olive Oil

There’s nothing too special about the oil I used but I did want to note that I’ve been keeping my olive oil in the fridge.  This calls for planning ahead to use it so it can un-solidify or else you have to run the bottle under warm water which, in my opinion, is wasteful of water and the heating oil it takes to heat the water...cold temps are here so I’m super aware of our usage of the heating oil because that bill when they fill the tank up is a killer.  I had done some reading about cooking oils and feel better keeping olive oil in the fridge so it does not go rancid as quickly.  Sometimes it takes me a long time to get through a bottle and I’d always just kept it on my counter.  I’ve just started to dabble in learning about oils/fats-what’s good, what’s not so good.  I find it all a little overwhelming since everything we once thought about saturated fats is now being called out as maybe not as true as was once thought.  At any rate, as well as a few other things, I did take from my reading this tip about olive oil in the fridge.   

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Roasted Garlic Pain a l’Ancienne

Bread.  What can I say, I love it the most of all foods.  I love the simplicity of the ingredients and how from those very simple ingredients, you can create an amazing array of very different types of bread.

I first made this bread last year and I was quite excited with the results, as well as the small amount of work involved.  It’s a crusty bread with a soft interior.  It sits for a while in the fridge so it gains a lot of flavor while it’s fermenting.

I decided to make up a batch of this again after being inspired by something I bought at a supermarket bakery not too long ago.  I was craving good, crusty bread and spotted a bag of goodness that would surely hit the spot.  They were called breadsticks but were fatter…more like the mini baguettes that this recipe makes.  They had hunks of roasted garlic and while the bag did say that it had olive oil and sea salt also, I didn’t notice how either was incorporated into the bread.  It was that garlic that made this bread memorable.

So it was to be.  I knew the recipe had to be a crusty, chewy type of bread.  I poked through cookbooks and everything was a 2+ day process.  I wanted bread now.  However, since I knew the wait would be worth it, I sucked it up and started the Pain a l’Ancienne. 

I had roasted the garlic in anticipation of replicating the bread I had bought and decided to put the whole heads in the freezer just to help preserve them.  Turns out, it was a good idea for another reason too.  As anyone who has roasted garlic knows, the end result is a soft clove that easily squeezes out of the bulb.  Kneading this fragrant, mushy loveliness into the bread would have been a mess so I was thrilled that I was a step ahead of myself without even knowing it.  I generally am not so keen to thinking ahead like that.

I will post the recipe next however, as to how to do the garlic…I can only tell you what I did.  I had 3 small-ish to medium-ish heads of garlic.  I cut off the tops and drizzled some olive oil over them, making sure some got down in the cloves.  I then wrapped the cloves in a double layer of foil and baked them.  I used a moderately hot oven…I think it was about 400 degrees…and just let them cook till they seemed to be done.  These were not huge cloves so it took maybe 30-45 minutes.  I would say roast your garlic for about 30 minutes then peek inside your packet and see if the cloves are looking brown and poke at them to see if they have softened. 

Another note on the garlic, even though I did freeze the cloves after they had been roasted, some did still “mush” into the dough instead of staying as whole cloves that could easily be seen in the bread.  I am going to experiment next time and unwrap all the cloves from the head, toss them in a mix of olive oil and salt, then roast them on a pan at a high temp for shorter time to hopefully get that great carmelization going without mushing them too much.  We’ll see how it works out…this is a work in progress!

Roasted Garlic Pain a l’Ancienne
adapted from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart (an awesome book!)

6 cups bread flour
2 1/4 tsp salt
1 3/4 tsp instant yeast
2 1/4 cups plus 2 tbsp-3 cups of ice cold water (40 degrees)
roasted garlic cloves, amount depends on your garlic tolerance-the 3 heads I used worked out nicely (seen notes above)

In a mixer bowl, combine the flour, salt and yeast.  Add 2 1/4 cups water and continue to mix.  You want the dough to be sticky yet not too sticky.  It should pull away from the sides of the bowl but be stuck to the bottom.  This is where you start to use your best judgment and add water if you feel it’s needed.  Once you get the right consistency, knead the dough in your mixer for 5-6 minutes. 

The dough will now ferment in the fridge overnight.  Put it in a large, oiled bowl then spritz the top of the dough with non-stick spray and cover it with plastic wrap.

I made this in the early afternoon so after about 3 hours in the fridge, when the dough was a little more firm from being cold, I kneaded in the garlic.  Put the dough on lightly floured surface, or you can even work it in while it’s in the bowl if you don’t mind the awkward work.  Knead small amounts of your garlic cloves in at a time until you have them all in there and evenly distrusted.  Put the dough back in the oiled bowl, spray the top again, cover it and throw it back in the fridge.

After the dough has risen in the fridge overnight, take it out and let it rest at room temperature for a few hours.  The dough should be doubled from its original size- the size it was before you put it in the fridge. 

At some point while the dough is warming up to room temperature, you will want to get your oven preheated.  You will need to use a pizza stone for best results as well as some steam.  The oven needs to be at least 500 degrees, or as high as your oven will go…mine goes to 550.  Preheat your stone for a while, the better part of an hour.  Your oven may get to the set temperature but you want the stone to be heated through and from what I’ve read, that takes longer than the oven to preheat.  As for the steam, there is a lengthy section in the book as to how to duplicate a steam oven that a bakery typically has.  I forgo most of this.  Would my bread maybe turn out better if I followed every last detail?  Yeah, it probably would.  However, when I have tried to follow it all, I’ve not noticed enough difference to warrant the work.  What I do is put a heavy duty sheet pan filled with hot water on the rack under my stone.  I place this in the oven, very carefully, shortly before I am about to put the bread in…about 15 minutes.  You will just want to keep an eye on the pan to make sure that the water does not evaporate away completely. 

When you are ready to bake, you will want to work with this dough very gently so that you do not deflate it any more than possible.  I have a hard time with that, I usually don’t have the patience but I try my best and work quickly but as gently as I can.  Divide the dough into 6.  Although I don’t have the patience for gentle handling, I do for even portions so I weigh the whole amount and divide it by 6 then portion it out that way.  Shape the dough into baguettes.  The book does not give a length; mine were about a foot long.  Put a few slashes in the top of the loaves with a very sharp knives so the sides don’t blow out as the expand in the oven.  As for how to get these onto the stone…I use a pizza peel and parchment paper.  I have had too many things stick to my peel no matter how much flour or semolina I’ve used so I now automatically use parchment on the peel and slice it all onto the stone.  Be careful, of course.  You are working with a very hot oven, steam and paper.  It could be a recipe for disaster if you don’t take your time and be cautious!  I bake 3 loaves at a time just for ease of maneuvering.

Bake these for 8-9 minutes then take a look at them.  If they are not browning evenly, very carefully rotate the loaves.  If you’ve used parchment this is fairly easy to do, just turn the whole lot of them on the paper.  Continue baking these for another 10-15 minutes.  You want the internal temperature of the loaves to be 205 degrees…check it just like you’d check a roast.  It takes the guess work out of whether or not it’s done. 

Cool these and then enjoy.  We had some as-is with dinner last night and tonight we are having shaved steak sandwiches with them.  There are fresh tomatoes from the garden and marinated mozzarella in the fridge just waiting to turn these loaves into yummy sandwiches.

If you can bear anymore blather from me, here are a couple notes about the ingredients used:

As always, King Arthur is the brand that I used. 

I buy my yeast in bulk at BJs.  Its SAF brand and it’s SO much cheaper than buying those little packets.  The yeast keeps wonderfully in the freezer.  Once I open the vacuum packed bag it comes in, I dump it into a freezer zip bag then put that bag into another freezer zip bag just to keep it as fresh as possible.  I’ve had luck with yeast keeping for a very long time like this, at least a year or more. 

I found organic garlic at Trader Joe’s.  I didn’t really think I’d find organic but was very happy that I did.  It was not that much more at all than the non-organic.  I think it was about $0.50 a pound difference.  The package was way less than a pound and while I did not do all the math, I know it was a minimal difference in cost between the two.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ice Cream

It’s been a little bit…well, maybe a long bit….since I posted.  Summer has arrived and as a stay at home mom, that means my days are filled now with keeping an 11 year old busy.  My posts may be few and far between over the next couple of months but I am still here and will be more active with the blog once the fall arrives when I don’t feel so badly sitting in front of a computer instead of hanging with my boy.

For now, I give you ice cream.

It’s a long story as to how I came to buy an ice cream maker.  I essentially bought it to save money and to make my own low fat ice cream creations. 

Two problems with that. 

1.      It’s expensive to make your own ice cream.
2.      Low fat, homemade ice cream tastes terrible.

So the thing sat in my cupboard for about 10 years, getting no use at all.  Last year I pulled it out, sucked it up and made a couple batches of ice cream that defied the reasons why I bought an ice cream maker in the first place.  I spent the money and calories on the ingredients and made some pretty decent ice cream.

This year I pulled the thing back out when I had mistakenly bought a half gallon of whole milk…I thought I was grabbing chocolate.  I don’t usually buy whole milk so I saw it as an opportunity to make something with it.  After years of using skim, whole milk is just not appealing to us for drinking so I had to do something with it as I did not want to waste it.

I knew I had seen a recipe for chocolate ice cream using only whole milk but when it came time to find it, I couldn’t.  In my inbox sits a “recipe” folder.  This is where I put emails from the blogs and recipe sites I follow that I would like to someday make.  Today it has 710 emails in it.  I am a recipe hoarder and I need help.  Therefore, I could not find what I was looking for…even after doing a search in that folder alone.

I started hunting online for a replacement recipe.  I found one that looked promising.  It had 2 cans of sweetened condensed milk in it.  Ah-ha.  I knew I had some stashed in my cabinets from holiday baking that I never got around to using.  As long as the date was still good on it, I’d used that.  I found 1 can of it and while the date was still good, it was only 1 can.

Back to the searching.  I found a recipe but it sounded horrible.  Cornstarch Ice Cream.  Told ya.  Doesn’t that conjure up images of powdery goo?  Well, it did for me but once I started looking more into, it seemed this recipe was onto something.  You could use cream, half and half, or any type of milk.  A variation I found showed even using coconut milk.  Yay.  I had everything for it and people liked it.  Now, I just had to figure out how to do chocolate.  The original recipe I had in mind was chocolate and that is what I wanted.   With a little looking I found a couple recipes that used the basics of this one with the addition of either cocoa or melted chocolate.  And so it was, I made my ice cream.  It was good.  It was very good considering the nature of the ingredients.  The next day I made vanilla and we put berries into it.  The vanilla was good too.  I used my Nielsen-Massey Vanilla Bean Paste in it so it had lovely black specs in it.  Had I finally found ice cream that didn’t cost a lot to make and wasn’t as bad for me as the more typical kinds made with cream?  Yeah, I think I did.

Here is a picture of some I made the other day.  It’s chocolate with organic unsweetened flaked coconut and chopped Marcona almonds.  Never mind my bad photography skills.  It’s something I’m still working on and I have to admit, I’ve been itching to blog this since I discovered it and just wanted to get a somewhat in-focus picture…nothing fancy, just one to show what it looks like.

Here are the links to everything I used to get this stuff made.  I used the New York Times recipe as stated to make the vanilla.  For the chocolate I had found 2 recipes, only one of which I bookmarked.  I took the two chocolate as well as the original vanilla and did my own thing after comparing them all.  I will update the blog if I do come across the other chocolate one again.  Goodness knows, I looked and looked for it this afternoon...I did want to link it and give it credit for the inspiration.

Here is what I did for my own chocolate:

2 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
pinch of salt
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tsp vanilla extract

As for how to make this chocolate version...I used the instructions for the NYT vanilla ice cream.  When the base was done cooking, I put the 2 tsp of vanilla in and stirred in the chocolate chips until they were melted.  I then continued to follow the NYT instructions.

If you are adding anything chunky to the ice cream, fold it in after it has been churned and then turn it into the container you will store it in while in the freezer.

Here are some notes about the ingredients I used:

Organic Whole Milk
I had originally bought Horizon Organic that day when I picked up the wrong type of milk.  For the coconut batch I used BJs in-house brand of organic whole milk.  Even though organic milk costs more than non-organic, it’s still way less than buying whole cream.

I used regular white (non-organic) sugar but I may change that.  Recently BJs has started to carry organic sugar.  I’ve had it in my hands a couple times but have always put it back on the shelf.  I think though, if they still have it when I go again, that I will buy it for my ice cream making.

I had Argo brand on hand the day I made this for the first time.  I knew it was likely ripe with GMO corn but I used it anyway.  I had bought it way before I made my discoveries and since it’s something I hardly use, I had a ton of it.  As I realized this would be a recipe that I make again and again, I decided to see if I could find organic cornstarch…I knew that would probably be the only way to know for sure that I was not using GMO corn.  I did find organic cornstarch at Whole Foods and of course it was about 3x the price of Argo but I bought it anyway.  The funny thing is, Whole Foods had Argo sitting right next to the organic as well as another common brand whose name escapes me right now.  I have to see if Argo is non-GMO but I have a feeling it is not, I know that there have been some protests of Whole Foods due to them letting some GMO products in.  I still love them though.  I know I’m very fortunate to have one near me with all the “better” choices that they do still provide.  I have emailed Argo asking them about the GMO thing and will post the response on Court Street Kitchen's Facebook page.

I used Nestle semi-sweet chips, again, because it’s what I had on hand the first time I made it.  As I continue to make chocolate ice cream, I will definitely be upping the quality of the chocolate.

That’s about it.  I think this is a great recipe because it makes homemade ice cream more do-able for us.  I don’t have to go out to buy anything special for it.  When I want ice cream, I just have to make sure my churning bowl is frozen and trust me, that’s enough of a challenge for me let alone having to make a special trip just to get everything I need for a recipe.  You can add whatever you want to this ice cream to make it your own.  I am loving my coconut almond variation and I have a million ideas in mind for future batches.  The possibilities with these base recipes are endless and I love that…whatever you are in the mood for can be easily done.   I am off now to enjoy a little bowl of frozen coco-nutty-almond goodness and to ponder my next variation.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Beer Biscuits

Over the last year I have grown very fond of beer bread.  It’s simple enough to make and tastes amazing.  This past weekend we grilled out and I wanted to make either beer bread or biscuits to go along with it.  I asked my son what he thought we should have and he said, “what about beer biscuits”?

I thought about it and decided that it seemed feasible so I searched for a recipe online.  The first one that came up was a Paula Deen recipe that required a baking mix, like Bisquick.  I really wanted to make the biscuits from scratch if I could.  I did have Trader Joe’s Multigrain baking mix in the cupboard but I’ve often been disappointed in the way baking mix biscuits turn out.

I noticed that Paula’s recipe used 12 ounces of beer so I looked at my go-to biscuit recipe and that called for 12 ounces of milk.  Perfect.  I’d use my biscuit recipe and replace the milk with beer.

The wonderful thing about beer bread is that after you put the batter into the loaf pan, you pour melted butter on top of it.  I’ve seen different amounts for the butter but I generally use ¼ cup of butter on top of the loaf.  This makes the crust the best part of the bread.  It browns up and tastes salty.  It’s really good.  Really, really good.

I wanted to emulate this on the biscuits as well.  After I cut the biscuits, I dipped the tops into melted butter.  Since I used unsalted butter, I wanted to be sure that the outsides of the biscuits had that salty taste like the bread does when I used salted butter on it.  I decided to put a sprinkle of salt on the top of each biscuit after I placed it on the baking sheet.  I used ground pink salt crystals thinking it would add a bit of color to the tops of the biscuits.

All in all, these biscuits were great.  They did not brown up quite the way the beer bread does but that did not matter in all in regards to taste.  They still had that buttery and salty taste to them that the beer bread does.  They also tasted like beer…something that I’ve never really noticed with beer bread.  I would venture to guess that the much shorter baking time allows the beer taste to stay intact with the biscuits.  The bread takes about an hour to bake whereas the biscuits cook for about 10 minutes.

For the biscuits, I based what I did on the Bakewell Cream biscuit recipe but I would not hesitate to substitute beer for the milk/cream in any biscuit recipe.

Before the recipe, here are a few notes on the ingredients I used:

As you may know by now if you’ve been following my blog, this is the flour I use in my kitchen.  It’s unbleached and I love that the company is employee-owned.

I picked this up last summer after seeing it time and time again at the Kittery Trading Post.  It’s similar in nature to baking powder.  I have only used it for biscuits at this point but would like to experiment with it for other baked goods in the future.

The back of the Bakewell Cream tin calls for shortening while the King Arthur recipe I’ve linked calls for butter.  I followed the back of the tin and used Spectrum Organic non-hydrogenated shortening.

I used Molson Canadian for this.  We are not beer drinkers and only keep it on hand to bake with.

I finally bought organic butter.  I found Horizon Organic butter at BJ’s Wholesale a couple weeks ago and it had an “instant rebate’ on it so I decided that it was the best time to try it out with the price that it was.  The only problem was, it was unsalted and I usually buy salted butter.  That is fine though, adding salt is easy enough.

Beer Biscuits
Adapted from:  Bakewell Cream Biscuits

4 cups all-purpose flour
4 tsp Bakewell Cream
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt 
1/2 cup shortening
12 ounces cold beer
For dipping:
1/4 cup butter
salt (optional, use if using unsalted butter for dipping)

Preheat oven to 475 degrees.

Combine flour, Bakewell Cream, baking soda and salt in bowl.  Using a whisk is great for this.  Using a pastry cutter or your fingers, work shortening into the dry ingredients until most has been incorporated.  You will want to leave a few small, pea-sized pieces so that you know you have not worked it in too much.  Slowly pour beer into the mixture and stir until it combines and all comes together. 

Lightly flour your counter and dump out your ball of biscuit dough.  Knead it a few times to bring it completely together.  At this point you will roll or pat the dough out to about 3/4 inch thick.  I hate to use biscuit cutters so what I do is pat it into a rectangle, 3/4 inch thick.  I then take my dough scraper and cut the rectangle in half, then half again so that I have 4 quarters.  I then cut each quarter into 2 squares for a total of 8 square shaped biscuits.

Melt 1/4 cup butter into a bowl that is big enough for you to dip the biscuit into.  Let it cool just a bit.  While it’s cooling, prepare your baking sheet.  You can lightly grease it or line it with parchment.  I prefer parchment, especially with this extra step of buttering the biscuits before you bake them.  Carefully pick up each biscuit and gently dip the tops into the melted butter.  It’s okay to let some of the butter drip down the sides of the biscuit but do let most of the excess drip off.  After all biscuits have been dipped and placed on baking sheet, top each with a sprinkle of coarse salt if you have used unsalted butter. 

Bake the biscuits in the preheated 475 degree oven for 5 minutes.  After five minutes have passed, turn off the oven and leave the biscuits in the closed-up oven for an additional 5-10 minutes.  I needed to keep mine in there for the whole 10 minutes because they are fairly large but definitely check them after 5 to make sure they are not browning too much.

Let these cool just a little bit before you dig in and enjoy.

Makes 8 big biscuits
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