Nectarine Pizza with Fresh Basil and Reduced Balsamic

I ate this whole pizza tonight. All of it. By myself. Not one slice remains for me for my breakfast tomorrow. I tried to refrain. No dice. So, if you’re still in summer-bathing-suit mode, avert your eyes.

This combination is so good. I believe the original, a pie hailing from Paso Robles where the dear friend who introduced me to this creation had just vacationed, called for peaches, but nectarines are a fine substitute. I’ve used an herbed goat cheese here with some Parmigiano Reggiano but I think some fresh ricotta or buffalo mozzarella or mascarpone or all three would be a nice substitute (or addition?) for the goat cheese. The Parmigiano, I think, is a must.

Fresh basil or some sprigs of arugula sprinkled on the just-baked pizza is key. It needs that hit of freshness as well as that bite from the reduced balsamic. Yum yum yum yum yum. Just don’t burn your balsamic. I did. Twice. Oiy. It’s really annoying. Really try not to do that.

Gosh, I don’t know what else to say. This is delicious and summery and fun, and I think you should make it.

Nectarine Pizza with Fresh Basil and Reduced Balsamic

Each pizza serves 1-2 people

pizza dough (recipe below)

Toppings For 1 pizza:
olive oil for greasing
cheese: fresh ricotta, buffalo mozzarella, goat cheese, mascarpone, whatever you like
1 nectarine, sliced thinly, (not paper thin)
shavings of fresh Parmigianno Reggiano
fresh basil

Reduced balsamic:

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1. Place balsamic in a small sauté pan. Turn heat to medium high. Let simmer until reduced and noticeably thick — watch it like a hawk. If it burns, it’s ruined. There’s no salvaging burnt balsamic. Err on the side of under reduced. It reduces more than you expect as it’s cooling. Remove from heat.

Pizza Dough
Adapted from Todd English’s The Figs Table
Makes four 8- to 10-inch pizzas (Serves 1 to 2 people per pizza, dough freezes beautifully)

¼ cup whole wheat flour
3½ cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for rolling
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 2/3 cups lukewarm water
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons active-dry yeast
2 teaspoons olive oil

1. Place the flours and salt in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. (Or knead by hand. I have not had luck making this in the food processor — the engine starts smoking after about five minutes.) Combine the water, sugar and yeast in a small bowl and let sit for five minutes until the mixture bubbles slightly. Add the olive oil and stir. With the mixer on low, gradually add the oil-water mixture into the bowl. Knead until the dough is firm and smooth, under 10 minutes. The dough will be very wet and sort of difficult to work with. I liberally coat my hands with flour before attempting to remove it.

2. Divide the dough into four balls, about 7½ ounces each. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. (Be sure to oil the parchment paper.) Place two balls on a sheet. Lightly rub the balls with olive oil, then cover loosely with plastic wrap. The dough is very sticky and wet, so, be sure to coat the balls or the plastic with oil. Let the balls rise in a warm spot until they have doubled in bulk, about two hours.

Note: This dough freezes beautifully. After the initial rise, punch down the dough, wrap it in plastic and place in a Ziplock bag. Freeze for several months. When ready to use, let sit at room temperature for about an hour, then proceed with rolling/topping/baking.

3. To roll out the dough: Dab your fingers in flour and then place one ball on a generously floured work surface. Press down in the center with the tips of your fingers, spreading the dough with your hand. When the dough has doubled in width, use a floured rolling pin (or continue using floured hands if you are skilled at making pizzas) and roll out until it is very thin, like flatbread. The outer portion should be a little thicker than the inner portion. Note: If the dough is being very stubborn, let it rest for 15 to 20 minutes. In this time, the gluten will relax, and the dough will be much easier to work with.

Baking:

1. Preheat the oven to 500ºF. Line a sheetpan with parchment paper or grease lightly with olive oil. Place rolled out dough onto parchment paper or greased pan. Drizzle dough with a little olive oil and with your hand, rub it over the surface to coat evenly.

2. Cover the dough with a layer of cheese — mozzarella, goat cheese, ricotta mascarpone, whatever you wish. Arrange one layer of sliced nectarines or peaches on top of the cheese. Sprinkle the fruit layer with fresh Parmigiano Reggiano. Place pizza in your very hot oven and bake for about 10 minutes or until the crust is slightly brown and the cheese is melting.

3. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with fresh basil or arugula. Drizzle with the reduced balsamic. Slice and serve. Yum.

Homemade Focaccia + Roasted Red Pepper & Arugula Sandwiches

Sandwiches

Next time you are invited to a potluck picnic, volunteer to make sandwiches. And then make these. You will be loved forever. I promise.

Roasted red peppers, arugula and an herbed goat cheese* is a particularly nice combination at the moment but later in the summer, when the tomatoes are peaking, a classic Caprese salad on this homemade focaccia will be a huge hit.

I have been making this focaccia recipe since it was printed in Fine Cooking magazine over six years ago now. It’s credited to Peter Reinhart and, like all of his recipes, is very precise. But unlike many of his recipes, which seem to begin days in advance of baking time, this one is just an overnighter and only takes minutes to prepare. It’s particularly easy if you have a stand mixer but Reinhart provides detailed by-hand mixing instructions as well. Make it. It’s a winner for sure.

I learned something, too, about roasting peppers while preparing for this picnic: Patience pays. I roasted these peppers as I usually do — on a parchment-lined sheetpan under the broiler for about 15 to 20 minutes or until evenly blackened — and steamed them as I usually do — in an aluminum bowl covered with plastic wrap. But instead of rushing the peeling, charring my little fingers in the process, I waited to peel till the following morning. It was a breeze. From here on out, I will roast, steam and peel 24 hrs. in advance … rrrrrigghhht.

* Note: I whipped a log of honey-goat cheese from Trader Joe’s with fresh basil and about 1/4 cup of crème fraîche (for texture), which made a delicious spread. Any herb or combination of herbs would be nice but I definitely recommend whipping the goat cheese with a little bit of milk or yogurt or something of the sort to make spreading easier.

Homemade Focaccia
Source: Fine Cooking March 2004
Yield = one sheet pan

Notes: If you don’t have a mixer, follow the instructions on the Fine Cooking website for mixing by hand.

1 lb. 9 oz. (5-1/2 cups) unbleached bread flour
2-1/2 cups cold water (about 55°F)
2 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. granulated sugar (1 oz.)
2 tsp. table salt or 3-1/2 tsp. kosher salt (1/2 oz.)
1 packet (1/4 oz.) instant yeast (also called quick-rise, rapid-rise, or fast-rising yeast)
10 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt or kosher salt for sprinkling

Mix the dough:

Coat a bowl large enough to hold the dough when it doubles in size with 1 Tbs. of the olive oil. Transfer the dough to the bowl and rotate the dough to coat it with the oil.

Hold the bowl steady with one hand. Wet the other hand in water, grasp the dough and stretch it to nearly twice its size.

Lay the stretched section back over the dough. Rotate the bowl a quarter turn and repeat this stretch-and-fold technique. Do this two more times so that you have rotated the bowl a full 360 degrees and stretched and folded the dough four times. Drizzle 1 Tbs. of the olive oil over the dough and flip it over. Wrap the bowl well with plastic and refrigerate it overnight, or for at least 8 to 10 hours.

Shape the focaccia:

Remove the bowl of dough from the refrigerator and start shaping the focaccia 3 hours before you intend to bake it (2 hours on a warm day). The dough will have nearly doubled in size. Cover a 13×18-inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat and coat the surface with 2 Tbs. of the olive oil.

Gently slide a rubber spatula or a dough scraper under the dough and guide it out of the bowl onto the center of the pan. The dough will sink beneath its own weight, expelling some gas but retaining enough to keep an airy gluten network that will grow into nice holes.

Drizzle 2 Tbs. of the olive oil on top of the dough. (Don’t worry if some rolls off onto the pan; it will all be absorbed eventually.)

Dimple the entire dough surface, working from the center to the edges, pressing your fingertips straight down to create hollows in the dough while gently pushing the dough down and out toward the edges of the pan. At first you might only be able to spread the dough to cover about one-half to three-quarters of the pan. Don’t force the dough when it begins to resist you. Set it aside to rest for 20 minutes. The oil will prevent a crust from forming.

After letting the dough rest, drizzle another 2 Tbs. olive oil over the dough’s surface and dimple again. This time, you will be able to push the dough to fill or almost fill the entire pan. It should be about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. If it doesn’t stay in the corners, don’t worry; the dough will fill the corners as it rises.

Cover the dough loosely with oiled plastic wrap, put the pan on a rack to let air circulate around it, and let the dough rise at room temperature until it’s about 1-1/2 times its original size and swells to the rim of the pan. This will take 2 to 3 hours, depending on the temperature of the room. Thirty minutes before baking, heat your oven to 475°F.

Bake the focaccia:

Just before baking, gently remove the plastic wrap and sprinkle a few pinches of sea salt or kosher salt over the dough. Put the pan in the middle of the hot oven and reduce the heat to 450°F. After 15 minutes, rotate the pan to ensure even baking.

Check the dough after another 7 minutes. If it’s done, it will be golden brown on top and, if you lift a corner of the dough, the underside will be golden as well. If not, return the pan to the oven for another 1 to 2 minutes and check again.

Set a cooling rack over a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment (to catch drippings). Use a metal spatula to release the dough from the sides of the pan. Slide the spatula under one end of the focaccia and jiggle it out of the pan onto the rack. If any oil remains in the pan, pour it evenly over the focaccia’s surface. Carefully remove the parchment or silicone liner from beneath the focaccia. Let cool for 20 minutes before cutting and serving.

Roasted Red Peppers
Yield= However many you want
(Estimate about 1 pepper for every 1 to 2 people)

red bell peppers

1. Preheat the broiler. Line a sheetpan with parchment paper for easy cleaning. Alternatively, grease the sheetpan with a little bit of olive oil.

2. Cut peppers in half lengthwise. Remove stem and seeds. Place peppers cut side down on sheet pan. Broil for about 15 to 20 minutes or until evenly charred.

3. Place peppers in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Steam until completely cool — overnight is ideal. Use peppers for salads, sandwiches, pasta salads, etc.

Do you love roasted red peppers? Here are some other ideas for using them up.

Herbed Goat Cheese

There are many ways to make a yummy herbed goat cheese. This is what I did: I whipped a log of honey-goat cheese (delicious on its own) from Trader Joe’s with fresh basil and about 1/4 cup of crème fraîche (for texture), which made a delectable spread. Any herb or combination of herbs would be nice but I definitely recommend whipping the goat cheese with a little bit of milk or yogurt or something of the sort to make spreading easier.

Overnight French Toast

Overnight French Toast, Out of the Oven

Overnight French Toast

I’m a real sucker for any sort of breakfast carb, especially when I’m out to eat. Challah French toast. Lemon-ricotta pancakes. Blueberry-cornmeal hotcakes. You name it. If it’s floured, fried and dripping in syrup, it has my name all over it.

Like the mussels, these are dishes I rarely make at home. Laboring over a fickle griddle is one deterrent for me. Timing is another. It’s nearly impossible to get enough pancakes and French toast and waffles out at the same time to serve everyone at once.

And you know what? I’m sort of tired of reading this line in recipes: “Place finished pancakes on a plate in a 200ºF oven to keep warm while you finish cooking.” We all know that after 20 minutes in a 200ºF oven, warm soggy disks are what remain. These foods are best eaten hot off the griddle. It’s a quandary for sure.

The solution? Well, I don’t have one for pancakes. But I do for French toast: Bake it. And start it the night before. This is the easiest French toast you will ever make, and I believe it’s one of the best, too. It’s crisp on the exterior and moist but by no means soggy on the interior. It emerges from the oven piping hot yielding enough, at the very least, for four eaters.

This recipe hails from the November 2000 issue of Gourmet — oh Gourmet how I miss you — and is a nice one to have in your file. Father’s Day is right around the corner … this might be a nice treat for everyone involved.

Just out of the oven, baked French toast:
Overnight French Toast, Out of the Oven

Overnight Baked French Toast

Serves 4 to 6

1 (13- to 14-inch-long) loaf of soft-crust bakery-style Italian bread*
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 2/3 cups whole milk
1 tsp. vanilla
3 tablespoons sugar
*Notes: My mom uses “Toasting White” (Pepperidge Farm, I believe). My aunt uses a dense bakery-style loaf of Italian bread, which is what I’ve used here — density is key. I like both breads with this preparation, however.

Accompaniments: maple syrup, berries and powdered sugar if desired

1. Cut about six to eight — enough to fit your pan — one-inch-thick diagonal slices of bread.

2. Generously butter one side of each slice and arrange slices, buttered sides up, in one layer in a buttered 13- by 9- by 2-inch glass baking dish, squeezing them slightly to fit if necessary.

3. Whisk together eggs, milk, vanilla and 1/4 teaspoon salt until combined well, then pour evenly over bread. Chill, covered, until bread has absorbed all of custard, at least one hour and up to one day, depending on bread.

4. Preheat oven to 425°F. Bring mixture to room temperature and sprinkle bread with sugar.

5. Bake, uncovered, in middle of oven until bread is puffed and top is golden, 20 to 25 minutes, or longer — make sure it’s nice and golden on top or it will be soggy in the middle. Serve immediately with fruit and syrup and powdered sugar if desired.

After a night in the fridge, the bread absorbs all of the liquid:
French Toast, unbaked

Champagne & Oysters + Solvang, Los Olivos, Los Alamos, Los Angeles Get Away

oysters

oysters

Our great eating adventure 2010 began at home with champagne and oysters. Oh champagne and oysters! Is anything more celebratory? I suppose you have to like oysters. Champagne is a given. The last time Ben and I had champagne and oysters together was at Balthazar, the morning after we wed, nearly five years ago now … ahhh memories.

Anywho, last Friday, we commenced a little long weekend getaway with a dozen and a half oysters, a bottle of Piper Hiedsieck, a wedge of Tomme de Savoie, Marcona almonds, a beet salad, and grilled flatbread topped with grapes and a wee too much cheese. It was a fun little spread.

The following morning we headed north to Solvang stopping first in Los Angeles for dinner at Ganda, a Thai restaurant reviewed in the March issue of Saveur by James Oseland, the magazine’s editor-in-chief. Apparently Oseland, on a recent visit to LA, went to Ganda five days in a row for the pla duk pad ped, or crispy catfish — catfish dry-braised in galangal, Kaffir lime leaves, and an abundance of spices. He declared the dish his favorite thing to eat in LA. Strong endorsement, si or no? Well, while I can’t see myself going to Ganda five days in a row for pla duk pad ped, the dish was delicious, and Ganda didn’t disappoint. I could eat that food all night long.

Now, where I can see myself going five nights in a row is a little place called Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos, CA. Full of Life Flatbread is not dissimilar to my favorite restaurants, Bar, in New Haven, CT, and Pizzeria Mozza, in Los Angeles. What can I say? Ben and I basically fell in love over a thin-crust white clam pizza, and when a restautant offers this very pie, never are we happier. But FLF offered more than just a delectable white clam, bacon and leek flatbread. Our appetizer — a grilled asparagus and chanterelle salad tossed with prosciutto, wilted frisée and Parmigiano — couldn’t have been more delicious; neither could the wine, a local Grenache, nor our sausage, onion and cheese flatbread. Yum yum yum.

You’ve all seen Sideways, right? Well, if you visit these parts, you can do the whole Sideways tour if you’d like, stopping at the various vineyards, tasting rooms, restaurants, attractions, etc. The only Sideways spot we came close to experiencing was the Los Olivos Cafe — where Miles drunk dials his ex-wife Vicki — located in the heart of Los Olivos, an adorable town with a great lunch spot — Panino — and some great tasting rooms and shops.

Los Olivos, Los Alamos, Buellton — I can’t say enough about the whole Santa Ynez valley. It is a beautiful part of the country. Ben and I have visited the area three times now and discover new must-try spots every time. If you are looking for a wine country get away but can’t fit Napa into your budget, consider this area. It is a blast. Apparently there’s a dude ranch in the area as well. We’ll have to scope that out next time.

By the way, we stayed in a great hotel, Hotel Corque. A little photo tour of our long weekend continues below:

cheese plate

oyster

flatbread

beet salad

Piper

In Los Angeles, we stayed at the Buky House, a wonderful Bed and Breakfast located in the La Brea (maybe?) neighborhood of the city.

buky house

ben and bebeka

Downtown Solvang. We had fun cruising the streets. So did the bebeka.

Solvang

There are a ton of bakeries in Solvang each offering many Danish specialties. We particularly enjoyed the kringle and cheese danish at Olsen’s on Mission Drive.

Solvang

For lunch both days we picked up sandwiches, once at The Chef’s Touch in Solvang and once at Panino in Los Olivos. There are several nice patches of grass in Solvang as well as countless vineyards with rolling hills perfect for picnicking.

bebeka

ben and bebeka

Full of Life Flatbread in Los Olivos. Amazing restaurant. Only open Friday, Saturday and Sunday. A must-try spot if you are vising this area.

Full of Life Flatbread

Aebleskivers. Another must-try spot is Arne’s Famous Aebleskivers in Solvang. Arne’s is a dine-in restaurant but you can also purchase aebleskivers — pancake like donut holes — drizzled with raspberry jam and sprinkled with powdered sugar right from a walk-up window on the street. They are delicious.

aliskiver

ableskivers

Los Olivos. A beautiful little town with great tasting rooms, shops and restaurants.

Los Olivos

Panino

Tasting Room

Bridlewood Winery. Bridlewood is located in Santa Ynez. It is beautiful — a perfect spot to picnic. They only have one rule: If you picnic on their grounds, you have to drink their wine. Fair enough. We bought a bottle of Grenache to enjoy with our sandwiches from Panino. It was a beautiful afternoon.

Vineyard

Vineyard

root 246. On Monday evening, we ate at root 246. We kept it simple, splitting a caesar salad topped with a poached egg to start and sharing the burger and a Mexican flatbread as our entrées. Everything was fabulous. root 246 is a must-try spot as well.

root 246

Finally, we headed home, stopping in Los Angeles to meet a dear friend for lunch at Cafe Midi and dessert — some amazing cookies — at Milk. Isn’t Harry adorable?

Harry

The Easiest (Best?) Ribs You Will Ever Make + Delicious Buttermilk Cornbread

Easiest (Best?) Ribs You Will Ever Make

Baby Back Ribs

The best ribs you’ve ever made? Let me qualify that. These are the only ones I know how to make, which make them the best I’ve ever made. That said, this recipe takes five minutes to prepare. Literally. Five minutes. But what emerges from the oven  — a juice-filled package of falling-off-the-bone baby back ribs, perfectly crisped on the exterior  — tastes like a day’s worth of work toiling over a coal-filled bbq pit. 

Sweet. Smokey. Salty. Delicious. If these aren’t the best ribs you’ve ever prepared, they’re damn good ribs at the very least. 

Where did I discover such an easy and delicious recipe? Where else. Liza, of course. My mother made these ribs for my meat-deprived husband and me when she was visiting last month. I’ve since made them several times for friends and family. If you’re looking for a crowd-pleasing recipe, this is it. Serve it with buttermilk cornbread (my favorite recipe is enclosed below) and a simple salad, and you have a successful dinner party in the making.

Now, some of you may be wondering where I found local, humanely raised pork. Well, I didn’t, because where I live, I haven’t been able to find a source fitting such criteria, a reality that has stopped me from buying pork for nearly two years. Oh Liza! With your baby back ribs! Your tasty tasty baby back ribs. I regret to admit I’ve compromised my morals.

Alas. For you locals, I have two alternatives: the Whole Foods in Laguna Beach sells organic pork from Canada donning a “responsibly farm raised” label, whatever that means. And Trader Joe’s sells pork from the Midwest from purveyors that “meet their standards,” according to a woman I spoke to on the Trader Joe’s product information line: 626.599.3817. Again, it’s hard to know how these pigs really live until you see the location yourself, but this woman assured me that Trader Joe’s has high standards, that their crew does checks regularly, and that the pigs from their purveyors do not live packed together in pens. Again, these sources are not the ideal but short of forgetting this recipe exists, the best alternative for the meantime. 

Baby Back Ribs

Baby Back Ribs

4 spices

Preparing the Ribs

The Easiest Ribs You’ll Ever Make

Serves 2-3
1 rack of baby back ribs
kosher salt
freshly cracked black pepper
smoked paprika (if you can find it) or parika
1 cup brown sugar
Heavy duty foil, if you have it

1. Preheat the oven to 275ºF.

2. Rinse off the ribs and pat dry. Liberally coat the ribs with the kosher salt, pepper and the paprika. Pack on the cup of brown sugar.

3. Lay out two sheets of foil slightly overlapping. Place ribs on top and close foil on all sides. Repeat two more times so that the ribs are covered in three good layers of foil. Place ribs on a sheet tray and place in the oven for 2½ hours. Note: When placing the ribs on the tray, try to place them meaty side down. It’s not critical but it makes for a crisper exterior.

4. Remove tray from the oven. Let sit for one hour. Do not open the pouch during this hour.

5. When ready to serve, reheat the ribs in the oven for about 15 minutes at 350ºF (this is assuming the ribs have not been refrigerated) or open the pouch, baste the ribs with the juices and place them under the broiler for five minutes.

Serve immediately with cornbread and a simple salad for a yummy yummy meal.

Buttermilk Cornbread

Super Moist Buttermilk Cornbread

Serves 8 to 10

1 3/4 cups flour
1 cup cornmeal
3 T. brown sugar
2 T. Sugar
1½ T. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup grated Monterey Jack or Cheddar or Gruyère (or any cheese you like)
4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups buttermilk

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugars, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the cheese and toss to coat.

2. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Whisk together the eggs and the buttermilk. Whisk in the melted butter. Pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

3. Melt remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Pour into a springform pan and swirl the pan to coat. Add the batter to the pan and place in the oven. Bake for about 55 minutes, until golden on top. (Check after 50 minutes). Place on cooling rack. Let cool for 15 minutes before cutting.

cornbread ingredients

Bean & Cheese Burritos, Beef Tacos & Homemade Flour Tortillas

Bean and Cheese Burrito

Bean and Cheese Burrito

I have a confession. I eat at Taco Bell about once a month. And I love it. More than love it. Look forward to it even. I know, I know. You hypocrite, you say. Well, let me explain.

You see, the reason I eat at Taco Bell is because when I meet a dear friend for lunch every month, our dining options are limited to El Pollo Loco, IHOP, Togo’s and Taco Bell.

And at Taco Bell I can order a bean and cheese burrito, two in fact, and I can pry open the steaming nearly transparent tortilla holding those beans and cheese from oozing out, and I can smother it with hot sauce. What a treat. Seriously, it’s the little things.

All I’m saying is that if you, like me, are picky about what meat you eat, know that at Taco Bell a delectable vegetarian option awaits you. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Incidentally, I was searching cooksillustrated.com for a taco recipe when I stumbled upon the results of a refried bean taste test. Which brand do you suppose prevailed on top? That’s right, Taco Bell Home Originals Refried Beans. Despite these results, however, I like to use Trader Joe’s refried pinto beans “salsa style.” They are tasty and made with just a handful of ingredients (… you may recall Michael Pollan’s eating algorithms.)

So what could be better than a Taco Bell burrito? Why one made in your own home, of course, with homemade flour tortillas. I know, homemade tortillas, “come on” you are saying. “What’s wrong with store-bought flour tortillas?” Indeed, store-bought tortillas are a perfectly fine product, one I undoubtedly will purchase again. That said, if you have the time and the curiosity, I think you’ll find the value in making them from scratch — these homemade tortillas are light and lovely with just a hint of butter taste, and truthfully, not too tricky to make. The dough requires minimal kneading and a short 30-minute rest before being rolled. And while a tortilla press is nice to get the rolling process going, it is an unnecessary tool in this process. A rolling pin does the job.

While nothing makes me happier than a couple of refried bean-and-cheddar burritos for dinner, I am conscious of my husband’s preferences, too, which lean toward meat-based entrees. Fortunately, I always have some of J&J’s grass-fed ground beef in the freezer and thanks to Cook’s Illustrated, I now have a favorite beef taco recipe. The filling, a mixture of sautéed onions, tomato sauce, a little vinegar, a pinch of brown sugar and a homemade spice mix — cumin, coriander, chili powder and oregano — is a snap to make. We’ve been eating tacos once a week here. They are awesome.

And as you can imagine, this beef mix makes a nice burrito filling as well. 

Tortilla Dough. Note: A tortilla press is unnecessary. I mostly use my rolling pin.
tortilla dough

When making homemade tortillas, you don’t really want them to brown too much, especially if you are making burritos. You want them to be cooked, but still pliable, capable of being filled and rolled.
tortilla

 Burritos
See that pan in the lower left corner of the above montage? It’s filled with beef taco filling. We’ve been eating tacos once a week here. I found the recipe (included below) on CooksIllustrated.com. It’s fantastic.

Cut Burrito

Bean and Cheese Burritos

Yield = However many you’d like

refried beans, I like Trader Joe’s brand
cheddar cheese
large flour tortillas, homemade if you are feeling ambitious, recipe below
salsa and sour cream, optional

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Spread flour tortillas with beans and cheese. Wrap burrito style. Wrap in foil. Place in oven until cheese is melted, about 20 minutes. I’m not totally sure how long these take, but if you have a whole bunch wrapped and heating in the oven, just pull out one to check and adjust time accordingly.

Note: I ended up placing the beans in a small frying pan to heat before I spread them onto a tortilla. This is mostly because it was hard to stir the beans up while they were still in the can. Also, a little beans and cheese go a long way — think “less is more” while assembling.

Homemade Flour Tortillas

Yield = 8 to 9 taco-sized tortillas or 4 to 5 burrito-sized tortillas

9 oz. (about 2 scant cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. table salt (not kosher) I used sea salt, fine
1/4 t. baking powder
1/4 c. unsalted butter

1. Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl. With a knife cut little pieces of the butter into the flour. Then with two knives cut the butter into the flour until mealy, smaller little bits of butter than in a pie dough.

2. Stir in 2/3 c. warm (not from tap, preferably) water with a fork until a shaggy dough forms.

3. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead 3-4 minutes until smooth, soft, and not sticky.

4. Cut the dough into 2-oz. pieces for taco-sized tortillas or 3-oz pieces for burrito-sized tortillas. You will have 8 to 9 small pieces or 4 to 5 larger pieces. Shape pieces into a ball.

5. Cover with a very light kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Be careful that your room isn’t too hot. Let the dough rest 30 minutes and up to two hours.

6. Roll out each ball to about 9 to 10 inches (taco) or 11 to 12 inches (burrito) in diameter, or till you can see the counter start to come through. Note: A tortilla press is nice to flatten the ball into a disk to get things going, but ultimately a rolling pin works best. The tortilla press is unnecessary if you don’t have one.

7. Heat a 12 inch non-stick or cast-iron pan (do not add any oil) on medium-high. Lay the tortilla in the pan and cook until it puffs and little brown spots on the underside appear. Turn with tongs and cook. Each tortilla takes about 45-60 seconds. You don’t really want the tortilla to brown at all. The tortilla in the above picture was actually cooked a little too long.

Notes: When making tortillas for burritos, it’s best if the tortillas are cooked just before you plan on filling them, wrapping them and placing them in the oven. This way they’ll stay pliable. 

Beef Tacos

Source: Cook’s Illustrated, Published May 1, 2002
Yield = 8 tacos, serves 4

Beef Filling:
2 teaspoons vegetable oil or corn oil
1 small onion , chopped small (about 2/3 cup)
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin*
1 teaspoon ground coriander*
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt
1 pound 90% lean ground beef, I used J&J grass-fed beef
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons vinegar (preferably cider vinegar)
Ground black pepper

* I like to toast whole cumin and coriander seeds and then grind them in my spice grinder with all of the other spices listed above. Just a thought, if you have the time. 

Shells and Toppings:
8 taco shells or small tortillas
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (4 ounces), or Monterey Jack cheese
2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
2 small tomatoes , chopped small
1/2 cup sour cream
1 avocado, diced medium
1 small onion, chopped small
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves
Tabasco sauce , or another brand of hot sauce

1. Heat oil in medium skillet over medium heat until hot and shimmering but not smoking, about 2 minutes; add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, spices, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add ground beef and cook, breaking meat up with wooden spoon and scraping pan bottom to prevent scorching, until beef is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce, chicken broth, brown sugar, and vinegar; bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently and breaking meat up so that no chunks remain, until liquid has reduced and thickened (mixture should not be completely dry), about 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.

2. Using wide, shallow spoon, divide filling evenly among taco shells; place two tacos on individual plates. Serve immediately, passing toppings separately.

Bean and Cheese Burrito

Hamburger Buns, My Favorite Way to Eat a Burger, and J&J Grassfed Beef

burger

burger

About a month ago, a hankering for homemade hamburger buns led me to a wonderful discovery: Belles Hamburger Buns. You see, I wanted to find the perfect vehicle to hold the burgers I have been savoring every week since stocking up on J&J grass-fed ground beef at Delaney’s 100-Mile Market in Temecula back in August. Oh if I only lived closer to this store! I would never be without Jordan Stone’s legendary homemade pastas, or cans of American Tuna, or wonderful local produce, chickens and eggs, and as I already mentioned, this tasty grass-fed beef.

Alas, back to the buns. Belles Hamburger Buns happened to be the first recipe to turn up on my google search. I have made the recipe three times now and have had success with every batch. The dough is simple to make and forgiving, too — yesterday, for example, I mixed the dough before work, let it rise in the fridge during the day, punched it down when I returned and proceeded with the recipe as if I had never stepped out of the kitchen. I have frozen the portioned dough, too, let it thaw in the fridge overnight and proceeded with the recipe the following evening. Simps.

Now, I know it’s not really burger season, but Liza, my mother, has turned me onto a burger recipe  — a preparation, really — that has become a weekly staple. It’s simple: Roast green peppers, chop them up, and mix them into hamburger meat with a little kosher salt and pepper. Then, form patties and cook them in a cast iron pan for about four minutes a side for delectable medium-rare burgers. Not sure what it is, but the roasted green peppers — and it’s important to use green not red though I can’t give you a scientific reason why — add just the subtlest bit of flavor, enough to keep the burgers juicy and tender but not so much as to mask the flavor of the meat.

And while any skillet will likely work, the cast iron skillet has produced consistent results every time: Four minutes a side for patties about  an inch thick weighing five to six ounces each has become my magic formula for producing medium-rare burgers. I don’t care what anybody says, cooking a burger to a desired temperature is damn hard, and I attribute the success I have had thus far to the cast iron pan’s ability to retain heat so well. I might add, too, that it is a cinch to clean — mine, a gift from Liza, is seasoned such that I rarely have to do anything but wipe it out with a paper towel. If bits do stick, I clean the pan the same way I clean this pan, by heating some kosher salt in it, then wiping it out with a paper towel. Simps.

Like many of my mother’s suggestions, this one took a few months to consider.  Why haven’t I learned? Liza doesn’t mess around, especially when it comes to food. I should just  immediately make and do everything she tells me to. Anway, try this burger-cooking method! I know you’ll find success. And if you have the time to make homemade buns and locate some yummy grass-fed beef, you have quite a memorable meal in store. Thanks, mama, for another wonderful recipe, and thank you, Belles, whoever and wherever you are for a fantastic bun recipe.

I hate to bore any of you who have already heard my thoughts on grass-fed beef, so here are a few links to past posts and articles if you are interested in reading up on this matter:

Grass-fed Beef
Pasture-Perfect Patties
Anxious to Purchase a Steer
Hearst Ranch Grass-fed Beef
Grass-Farming in Lancaster
Small Farm Productivity
When Searching for Solutions, Don’t Forget the Farm

hamburger bun

Making these buns couldn’t be simpler: Combine yeast and flour in a stand mixer. Heat milk, water, sugar, salt and butter together until warm to the touch. Add the warmed milk mixture to flour and let the stand mixer do its thing for 8 minutes. Ta-da! The dough is ready to go.

hamburger buns

Cooking these burgers couldn’t be simpler either. Heat a thin layer of olive oil in a cast-iron pan over high heat. When the oil begins swirling in the pan, add the patties and reduce the heat to medium-high. Cook for about 4 minutes. Flip. Add cheese, if desired, and cook for about 4 minutes longer for medium rare. Yum.

patties in pan

The wonderful J&J grass-fed beef:
J&J Grass-fed Beef

burger

Are these not the cutest little buns you have ever seen? You can make them, too! Promise. It’s easy and fun and delicious.

hamburger bun

Update 5/4/2012: If you’re looking for a brioche burger bun, try this recipe. It’s my new favorite burger bun recipe. I love love love Belles Hamburger Buns, but there’s something about a brioche bun and a burger, you know? They’re just a perfect match.

Belles Hamburger Buns
Yield = 12

1 cup milk
1 cup water
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
5 1/2 cups (about 23.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 (.25 ounce) envelope active dry yeast
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon water
sesame seeds (optional)

1. Combine the milk, 1 cup of water, butter, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Heat until warm to the touch and until the butter has melted — this only takes a minute or two. Remove from the heat. If you have heated the mixture longer than you had intended, let it stand till room temperature. Warning: if the mixture is too hot, it will kill the yeast.

2. In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), stir together the flour and yeast. Pour in wet ingredients and stir until the dough starts to pull together. If you have a stand mixer, use the dough hook to mix for about 8 minutes. If not, knead the dough on a floured surface for about 10 minutes. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning to coat. Cover and let stand until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

3. Punch down the dough and divide into 12 portions. Make tight balls out of the dough by pulling the dough tightly around and pinching it at the bottom. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Note: I would only bake 6 buns at a time on one sheet and place only one pan in the oven at a time to ensure even baking. Set rolls aside until they double in size, about 20 minutes.

4. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Mix together the egg yolk and 1 tablespoon of water in a cup or small bowl. Brush onto the tops of the rolls. Sprinkle with sesame seeds if using.

5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until nicely browned on the top and bottom. Let cool before slicing and serving.

Note: I have served these warm, which I love, and also sliced and toasted, which I think is even better for burgers — the toasted buns don’t get soggy.

Liza’s Burgers with Roasted Green Peppers
Yield = As many as you wish

Note: This is more of a method than a recipe.

hamburger meat (I usually use about a pound)
green peppers (I usually roast about 2 peppers per pound of beef, but don’t end up needing all of them for the patties.)
Parchment paper, for easy cleaning
olive oil
kosher salt
freshly cracked pepper

Homemade buns (optional), recipe above
Burger accoutrements: cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion, Dijon, ketchup, mayo, etc.

1. Roast the peppers: Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Line a sheetpan with parchment paper. Cut the peppers in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds and stem. Place peppers cut-side down on the prepared pan and place in the oven. Roast until the skins are browned and blistery, about 20 minutes. This may take longer or shorter, depending on your oven. Just keep an eye on them towards the end — you don’t want them to be totally charred. Remove the peppers from the oven. Place in a bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside. When peppers are cool enough to handle, remove skins and discard. Chop peppers into small pieces. Set aside.

Note: This can be done days in advance. Also, you might not need all of the peppers. Save any remaining to add to an omelet. Yum.

2. Prepare the patties: Spread the meat into a large bowl. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt and pepper. Sprinkle as many of the diced peppers over the meat as you like. Gently begin forming your patties. I portion mine into either 5- or 6-ounce patties depending on the day. Season each side of the burgers with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Heat a thin layer of olive oil in a cast iron pan over high heat. When the oil begins to gently swirl, add the patties and turn the heat down to medium or medium-high. Cook for 4 minutes. Flip. Top with a thin slice of cheese, if desired, and cook for about four minutes longer for medium-rare. Serve on a toasted bun with all the fixins.

The Best Bread Pudding, So Much Love for Tartine

bread pudding

bread pudding

I never expected to receive a return phone call. I had been agonizing over how I was going to make my bread pudding … with fruit baked in it or without? Did Tartine really not add any fruit to the bread pudding while it baked? Their cookbook says without, but I thought I remembered bits of warm peaches dotting the pudding throughout. I needed affirmation before proceeding, and so I placed a call to Tartine itself. 

I called about 10 times before leaving a message. I explained that I had read the preface to the brioche bread pudding recipe in the cookbook, which explains that Tartine serves their bread pudding with seasonal fruit lightly sautéed in butter and then heated in a caramel sauce. Was this accurate, I asked? Or did Tartine sometimes bake the fruit right in with the custard and brioche? I left my number, hung up the phone, accepting I would likely have to make the decision on my own.

Not so. Later that day, I turned on my phone to find a message from Suzanne, a lovely Tartine employee. She confirmed exactly what the cookbook says, that Tartine indeed bakes the bread pudding without any fruit in it. They do also warm a seasonal fruit of choice — peaches, berries, apples, pears — in a caramel sauce, the recipe for which I have included below though have yet to test. Moreover, when the busy bees in the bakery remove the pans of bread pudding from the oven, they poke holes in it to let steam out and to create space, and then they pour the warm fruit in caramel sauce over top. Brilliant! Thank you, Suzanne.

I have been meaning to post this for months now, and I am afraid peach season is long over. So, while my picture below is a little dated, I write this with even more confidence in this recipe. You see, I have just returned from a  most wonderful wedding of two most wonderful people in San Francisco, where I was able to sneak in a visit to Tartine with five friends. Together we ate two bowls of bread pudding, one slice of quiche, one croque monsieur, one croissant and one chocolate croissant. As anticipated, the bread pudding triumphed as the table’s favorite. With my new knowledge, too, I was able to discern a caramel flavor permeating the pudding. I must note, too, that the Tartine caramel sauce is as light as a caramel sauce can be. It adds a subtle yet critical flavor, and I most definitely will make it the next time I prepare this bread pudding.

Hooray for apple season! I imagine apples warmed in caramel sauce will make a lovely topping for this most delicious bread pudding.

Just some quick notes here about the recipe:

• I decided to make the brioche from scratch, which was well worth the effort, but also a two-day affair. If you have a good source for brioche, by all means, buy it! The recipe for the bread pudding itself is quite simple and so long as the brioche you purchase is baked in a standard loaf pan and you can slice it into one-inch pieces, you should be able to add an accurate amount of bread to your pudding. 

• Really follow the instructions about the ratio of bread to custard. I was shocked by how much more custard there was in my pan than bread, but I trusted the recipe and went with it. That is the key! The bread soaks up all the custard. The key to producing a moist bread pudding is to not crowd the pan with bread. This is by far the best bread pudding I have ever made and I attribute that mostly to sticking to the proportions prescribed in the cookbook.

• The cookbook suggests using a 9X5-inch glass loaf pan. When I made this, I hadn’t yet purchased this size pan but had success with an 8X8-inch pyrex pan I happened to have on hand. I am looking forward to using the real deal next time around.

bread pudding with sautéed peaches

Tartine's brioche

bread pudding in pan

Below are some invaluable notes from the Tartine cookbook. I took their suggestion for what to do with remaining custard. Delectable!

• Never crowd the bread slices in the mold — when a bread pudding is dry, crowding is usually the cause.

• If you use a shallower mold (than a loaf pan), reduce the baking time.

• If you end up with more custard than you need, transform it into a simple dessert: pour it into ramekins, place them in a hot-water bath, and bake in a 350ºF oven until set, about 40 minutes.

• If you have left over bread pudding, chill it, slice it, and fry it as you would French toast.

• This recipe works equally well with croissants, chocolate-filled croissants, challah or panettone

Brioche Bread Pudding

Yield = one 9×5-inch pudding, 6 to 8 servings
Source: Tartine

6 brioche slices*, cut 1-inch thick, see recipe below
8 large eggs
3/4 cup + 2 T. sugar
4 cups whole milk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt

* I did in fact make the brioche for this recipe, and it is a great recipe. Just a warning, it is quite a process … it takes literally about 2 days to make. If you have a source for good brioche, by all means, use it — buy the brioche … your bread-pudding-making experience will be all the more enjoyable. 

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter a 9×5-inch glass loaf dish. Arrange the brioche slices on a baking sheet. Place in the oven until lightly toasted, 4 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

2. Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk until blended. Add the sugar and whisk until smooth. Add the milk, vanilla and salt and whisk until fully incorporated. Pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve.

3. Place the toasted bread slices in the prepared loaf pan, cutting the slices to fit as needed. Pour the custard evenly over the bread, filling the dish to the top. You may not be able to add all of the custard at this point. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes, so that the bread can absorb the custard.

4. Just before baking, top off the dish with more of the custard if the previous addition has been completely absorbed. Cover the dish with aluminum foil, place in the oven, and bake the pudding for about 1 hour. To test for doneness, uncover the dish, slip a knife into the center, and push the bread aside. If the custard is still very liquid, re-cover the dish and return the pudding to the oven for another 10 minutes. If only a little liquid remains, the pudding is ready to come out of the oven. The custard will continue to cook after it is removed from the oven and it will set up as it cools.

5. Let the pudding cool for about 10 minutes before serving. You can serve the bread pudding by slicing it and removing each slice with an offset spatula, or by scooping it out with a serving spoon.

Serve with fresh or sautéed fruit.

Brioche

Yield = Three 1¼-pound loaves
Source: Tartine

Preferment
¾ cup nonfat milk
2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 ¾ cups bread flour = 8 ¾ oz.

Dough
2 T. + 1 tsp. active dry yeast
5 large eggs
1 ¼ cups whole milk
3 ½ cups bread flour
¼ cup sugar
1 T. salt
1 cup + 2 T. unsalted butter, chilled but pliable

Egg Wash
4 large egg yolks
¼ cup heavy cream
pinch of salt

1. To make the preferment, in a small saucepan, warm the milk only enough to take the chill off. The milk should not be warm or cold to the touch but in between the two (80º to 90ºF). Pour the milk into a mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the milk, stir to dissolve the yeast with a wooden spoon, and then add the flour, mixing with the spoon until a smooth batter forms. Cover the bowl with cheesecloth and place in a cool, draft-free area for 1 hour and then refrigerate for at least 1 hour or for up to 3 hours to cool down. The mixture will rise until doubled in volume and not yet collapsing.

2. Meanwhile, measure all the ingredients for the dough. Once you measure the butter, cut into cubes and return the eggs, milk and butter to the refrigerator to chill.

3. To make the dough, transfer the preferment and then the yeast to the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on low speed until the yeast is incorporated into the preferment batter, which will take a minute or two. Stop the mixer as needed and use a spatula to clean the bottom and sides of the bowl, folding the loosened portion into the mixture to incorporate all the elements fully. When the mixture has come together into an even, well-mixed mass, begin to add the eggs one by one, increasing the mixer speed to medium or medium-high to incorporate the eggs and stopping the mixer and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

4. Once all the eggs are incorporated, reduce the mixer speed to low and begin slowly to add 1 cup of the milk. When the milk is fully incorporated, stop the mixer and add the flour, sugar and salt. Engage the mixer again on low speed and mix until the dry ingredients are incorporated, about 3 minutes. Increase the speed to medium-high and mix until you see a dough forming and it starts to come away cleanly from the sides of the bowl, 2 to 3 minutes.

5. Turn off the mixer and let dough rest for 15 to 20 minutes. While the dough is resting, place the chilled butter cubes into a separate mixer bowl. Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment and mix the butter on medium speed until the cubes are pliable but not soft and are still chilled.

6. Remove the bowl holding the butter from the mixer and replace it with the bowl holding the now-rested first-stage dough. Refit the mixer with the dough hook and begin mixing on medium speed. When the dough again starts to come away cleanly from the sides of the bowl, increase the speed to medium-high. At this stage the dough will appear very silky and elastic. With the mixing speed still on medium-high, add small amounts of the butter, squeezing the cubes through your fingers so that they become ribbons as they drop into the bowl. Stop the mixer to clean the bottom and sides of the bowl as needed with the spatula. Make sure that you don’t add too much butter too quickly and also make sure that you don’t mix the butter too long after each addition or you will heat up the dough. When all the butter has been added, allow the mixer to run for another 2 minutes to make sure the butter is fully incorporated. The dough should still be coming away cleanly from the sides of the bowl at this point.

7. Now, slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup milk in increments of 1 tablespoon and increase the mixer speed to high. Mix until the dough is very smooth and silky and continues to pull cleanly away from the sides of the bowl. This should take another 2 minutes.

8. Lightly oil a large baking sheet. Spread the dough evenly on the prepared pan. Dust the top lightly with flour and cover with cheesecloth. Put the pan in the freezer for at least 3 hours and then transfer to the refrigerator overnight.

9. Brush three 9X5 loaf pans with melted butter. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and place on a lightly floured work surface in a cool kitchen. Divide the dough into 3 equal portions. Press each portion into a rectangle the length of a loaf pan and slightly wider than the pan. Starting from a narrow end, roll up the rectangle tightly, pinch the ends and seam to seal, and place seam side down in a prepared pan. The pan should be no more than one-third full. The dough increases substantially during rising, and if you fill the pan any fuller, the brioche will bake up too large for the pan. When the pans are filled, place them in a draft-free area with relatively high humidity. Let rise for 2 to 3 hours. During this final rising, the brioche should at least double in size and look noticeably puffy but still be resilient to the touch.

10. Preheat the oven to 425ºF for at least 20 minutes before you want to begin baking. About 10 minutes before you want to begin baking, make the egg wash: whisk together the yolks, cream and salt until you have a pale yellow mixture. Using a pastry brush, brush the wash on tops of the loaves. Let the wash dry for about 10 minutes before baking.

11. Place the loaves in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350ºF and bake until the loaves are a uniformly dark golden brown on the bottom, sides and top, about 45 minutes longer. Remove the pans from the oven, immediately rap the bottoms on a tabletop to release the loaves, and then turn the loaves out onto wire racks to cool. The loaves can be eaten warm from the oven or allowed to cool and eaten within the day at room temperature or toasted. If you keep them longer than a day, wrap them in plastic wrap or parchment paper and freeze them indefinitely.

Caramel Sauce

Yield = 1 1/2 cups
Source: Tartine

2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 of one vanilla bean
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
2 T. light corn syrup
3/4 tsp lemon juice
4 T. unsalted butter

Kitchen Notes:
• Use a good-sized pan when preparing this caramel. When the hot cream is added, the caramel will boil furiously at first, increasing dramatically in volume. Have ice water nearby in case of burns.

1. Pour the cream into a small, heavy saucepan. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use the tip of a sharp knife to scrape the seeds from the pod halves into the cream. Place over medium-high heat and bring to just under a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low to keep the cream warm.

2. In a medium, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, water, salt and corn syrup. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Then cook, without stirring, until the mixture is amber colored, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat.

3. The mixture will continue to cook off the heat and become darker, so make sure to have your cream close by. Carefully and slowly add the cream to the sugar syrup. The mixture will boil vigorously at first. Let the mixture simmer down, and then whisk until smooth. Add the lemon juice. Let cool for about 10 minutes.

4. Cut the butter into 1-inch chunks and add them to the caramel one at a time, whisking constantly after each addition. Then whisk the caramel periodically as it continues to cool.

The caramel will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one month.

Cinnamon-Raisin Bread

breadstack

breadstackIs there anything better than homemade bread? I mean seriously. I’ve asked this question before. The answer is always no, there is nothing better than homemade bread. The smell and taste of this buttermilk, cinnamon-raisin bread has confirmed this assertion once again.

I mixed together this batch of dough before bed one night about five minutes after reading an email from a friend raving about the recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The following morning I baked off two loaves of bread. One, I sliced and froze. The other, I sliced and ate and ate and ate and ate. And then I tucked the remaining heel in a ziplock back and stowed it in my cabinet. And then several hours later, I opened the cabinet and the bag and ate the heel for dinner. It was a quite a day.

Anyway, thank you, Darcy, for inspiring me to venture into the “enriched breads and pastries” chapter of Artisan Bread In Five. Readers, if you still haven’t taken a stab at bread making, pick up this book. Bread making has never been so easy and fun. And while you’re at it, order an 8-quart Cambro and lid (odd that the two aren’t sold together) for easy mixing and storing. And, if you happen to be ordering flours and other baking staples for the upcoming holidays, order a bulk bag of yeast. I store mine in a cylindrical, plastic tupperware-type vessel in the fridge.

Also, I must confess, I didn’t have raisins on hand when I set out to make this bread and so should have titled this post “Cinnamon Bread,” but that just sounds wrong. All I’m saying is that with or without raisins, this recipe is a winner. 

Also, I am very excited to report that I won an autographed copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day simply by leaving a comment on the blog Baking and Books. You, too, have a chance to win a cookbook every month. Stop by Baking and Books for more details.

loafandstack

Cinnamon-Raisin Buttermilk Bread
Yield = Three 1½-lb. loaves (these are smallish loaves) or Two loaves (which I prefer)

2 cups lukewarm water
1 cup buttermilk
1½ T. yeast
1½ T. kosher salt
1½ T. sugar
6½ cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
butter for greasing the pan
1½ tsp. ground cinnamon (I tripled the amount of cinnamon the second time around, so make your cinnamon-sugar mix according to taste.)
1/3 cup sugar
¾ cup raisins (if you are using them)
egg wash (I egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water)

1. Mixing and storing the dough: Mix the yeast, salt and sugar with the water and buttermilk in a 5-quart mixing bowl or a lidded (not airtight) food container.

2. Mix in the flour without kneading, using a spoon, a 14-cup capacity food processor (with dough attachment) or a heavy-duty stand mixer with dough hook. If you’re not using a machine, you may have to use wet hands to incorporate the last bit of flour.

3. Cover (not airtight) and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses or flattens on top, approximately 2 hours.

4. The dough can be used immediately after the initial rise, though it is easier to handle when cold. Refrigerate in a lidded (not airtight) container and use over the next 7 days.

5. On baking day, lightly grease a 9x4x3-inch nonstick loaf pan. Set aside. Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1½-pound (cantaloupe-size) piece. (Note: the original recipe yields 3 loaves. I prefer dividing the total amount of dough in half and making two larger loaves as opposed to three smallish loaves.) Dust with more flour and quickly shape into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.

6. With a rolling pin, roll out the dough to an 18×16-inch rectangle (or about an 11×18-inch rectangle — just wider than the loaf pan) about ¼-inch thick, dusting the board and rolling pin with flour as needed. You may need to use a metal dough scraper to loosen rolled dough from the board as you are working with it.

7. Using a pastry brush, cover the surface of the dough lightly with egg wash. Mix together the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle the mixture evenly over the dough. Distribute the raisins, if using.

8. Starting from the short side, roll it up jelly-roll style. Pinch the edges and ends together, tucking the ends under. Place the loaf seam-side down in the prepared pan. Allow to rest 1 hour and 40 minutes (or just 40 minutes if you’re using fresh, unrefrigerated dough.)

9. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 375ºF. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from pan and allow to cool before slicing.

breadstack

Honey-Buttermilk Dinner Rolls, Poached Pears & Aunt Vicki’s Salad Dressing

rolls

rolls

Oh my. I cannot believe Thanksgiving is almost here. I know everyone is very busy preparing, so let’s keep this short and sweet, k?

If you get anything out of this post, I hope it is this:

1. A yummy recipe for buttermilk dinner rolls, perfect for the holiday table and a great way to use up a left-over buttermilk.

2. A delectable salad dressing made with reduced orange juice and white balsamic vinegar. This dressing is particularly nice with wintery salads — endive, shaved fennel, apple, pear, oranges, etc.

3. And a simple method to poach pears. Ready? Combine equal parts white wine and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Add peeled, halved and cored pears. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Check with a paring knife — pears should be tender but not mushy. Turn off the heat, remove pears and let cool to room temperature. Save the poaching liquid for another use. Slice pears further if desired. (Note: I used ½ cup of wine and sugar for about 4 pears. Nice additions to the poaching liquid include orange zest, cinnamon stick and vanilla bean.)

OK, let’s get started.

First, these rolls. Looking for a way to use up a half-quart of buttermilk, I stumbled upon this recipe for honey buttermilk bread. I simplified the recipe a little bit, divided the dough into two big portions and made dinner rolls with half the batch and a regular-sized loaf with the other. The dinner rolls I devoured in about a day-and-a-half. The loaf, I sliced and froze and have been toasting every morning, spreading with apple butter, cinnamon and sugar, and sometimes just butter and salt. So yummy.

Here’s the recipe:

Honey-Buttermilk Dinner Rolls
Adapted from the blog, The Baking Sheet
Yield = Two Dozen 2-oz. rolls or one large loaf

2½ teaspoons active dry yeast (rapid rise is fine, too)
2 cups buttermilk, room temperature is ideal — bread will take longer to rise if you use cold buttermilk
2 T. honey
4½ cups flour, plus more while kneading or mixing
2 tsp. kosher salt

1. Combine yeast, buttermilk and honey in the bowl of a stand mixer or, if kneading by hand, in a large bowl. Whisk until combined. It’s OK if a few lumps of yeast remain.

2. Add the flour and salt to the mixer and with the dough hook attachment (or your hands), knead for about 10 minutes or until dough is pulling away from the sides of the bowl and forming a mass around the hook. I probably added an additional cup of flour.

3. After 10 minutes, transfer the dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot for about two hours (may take as long as four) or until doubled in bulk. Longer is fine, too. Punch down dough, and decide what you are going to make — rolls, loaves, boules, etc. 

If making rolls, begin portioning the bread into about 2-ounce pieces — if you don’t have a digital scale, just use your eye to judge. It is best to cut with a dough scraper or a sharp knife. (Alternatively, cut the dough in half, then divide each half into about 12 equal portions. Err on keeping the rolls smallish.) Round each portion of dough into a ball and place on a parchment-lined (or oiled) baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Let rolls rise for about 40 minutes. Bake rolls for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown — check the bottoms of the rolls because they will brown first.)  

If making a loaf, place dough in a greased loaf pan. Let rise until almost doubled, about 40 minutes. Bake 45 minutes, until loaf is browned and sounds hollow when tapped. Let cool for 30 minutes before slicing.

endive-salad

I first tasted this salad dressing when Aunt Vicki made a Greek salad for a dinner party this summer. I love its versatility — it is delicious with romaine, endive, baby spinach, arugula, etc. I think it is a perfect dressing for this Thanksgiving salad.

Aunt Vicki’s Salad Dressing
Yield = 1¾ cups

2 cups orange juice
¼ cup white balsamic vinegar, (regular is fine, too)
kosher salt and pepper to taste
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup chopped scallions, green part only, cut on the diagonal (optional — I don’t add the scallions because I like to keep a jar of this in my fridge for a long time)

1. In a small saucepan, bring the orange juice to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook until it has reduced to ½ cup, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, transfer to a medium-sized bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. Once cool, whisk in the vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Transfer to a jar and store in refrigerator until ready to serve. Bring to room temperature before using.