Pumpkin Bread

cut loaf of pumpkin bread

Everyone and their mother has a recipe for pumpkin bread. This happens to be my mother’s recipe — not sure where it originates beyond her — and it is incredibly delicious. Made with oil not butter, the batter comes together in minutes. I mixed mine the night before baking, and used mini loaf pans because, well because, I think they’re cute, and I suppose because I’m getting excited for the impending homemade-gift-giving holiday season.

What else can I say here? Like many of you I suspect, I am consumed by all things pumpkin at the moment…can’t stop dreaming about pumpkin muffins, cheesecake, soup, lattes, fritters, gnocchi, gnudi, yadi yadi yadi. Tis the season! If you don’t have a recipe for pumpkin quick bread up your sleeve, this one is a winner. Happy fall!

pumpkin bread

pumpkin bread batter

pumpkin bread

Pumpkin Bread
Yield = 2 standard loaf pans or 5 mini loaf pans

Mini loaf pans can be purchased here.
Disposable loaf pans can be purchased here, too.

2 c. sugar
1 c. canola oil
4 eggs
16 oz. canned pumpkin (not pie filling)
3/4 cup water
3 c. flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. table salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves (optional — I didn’t have any so didn’t use any)
1/2 tsp. nutmeg (or less — I used about 1/4 tsp.)
1/2 tsp. allspice (optional — I didn’t have any so didn’t use any)

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease loaf pans with butter or non-stick spray.

2. Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat sugar and oil together until blended. Add eggs one at a time mixing after each addition. Add pumpkin purée and water and mix until blended.

3. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and allspice. Add to the mixer and mix only until just incorporated. Pour batter into prepared pans.

4. Bake for about an hour (if using standard loaf pans) but start checking for doneness after 45 minutes — the loaves are done when center springs back when touched. Note: When using the small pans, the loaves should be done in under 45 minutes. I started checking after 30 minutes, and the loaves were done after about 35 minutes (or maybe a minute or two longer…lost track of time.)

I love these disposable mini loaf pans, too. They are so pretty! Wonderful for gift giving. I actually baked the loaves in my mini pans before transferring them to the disposable pans — I was thinking this would be less messy —but…oopsidasies, the disposable pans are a wee bit smaller than my non-disposable pans. I kind of had to squeeze the baked loaf to get it to fit. It worked out fine, but next time I’d just as soon bake the loaf in the disposable pan. That’s what it’s for after all, right?

pumpkin bread as gift

pumpkin bread

13. October 2011 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Bread, Breakfast, Gifts, Olallie Cafe recipes | 122 comments

When People Come to Visit…

almond coconut granola

…it’s always nice to have some baked goods on hand. Here are four that never fail to please.

1. Granola. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t welcome a bowl of homemade granola with milk or yogurt topped with fresh berries or sliced banana first thing in the morning. This also is my go-to gift for a host or hostess and my most-often requested recipe. (Note: I’ve made a few changes, which are listed below. It’s now much less fussy, a teensy bit less sweet, and still just as delicious.)

2. Biscotti. I’ve never had anyone pass on a homemade biscotti with their morning beverage. These are perfect with coffee, tea, hot chocolate…anything really.

baked almond biscotti

3. Salted Oatmeal Cookies. While I consider numbers 1 and 2 to be essentials, it doesn’t hurt to have a jar filled with these salted oatmeal cookies on hand either. I’ve been making this Washington Post recipe since 2007, when my teensy grandmother snipped it out of her Wednesday paper and saved it for me. She was so wonderful. A perfect balance of sweet and salty, these cookies are one of my favorites. Your guests will adore them (and you), too.

salted oatmeal cookies

salted oatmeal cookies

4. Honey Whole Wheat Toasting Bread. Finally, if you’re feeling particularly domestic, it’s especially nice to have a couple of loaves of honey whole wheat bread kicking around. Made with leftover coffee, this good-old-fashioned recipe — no no-knead-super-slow-rise tricks here — hails from the Bakery Lane cookbook. I wish I had a photograph of my mother’s copy, now held together by rubber bands and twine. It’s filled with goodies.

honey whole wheat bread

honey whole wheat bread

baked almond biscotti

Recipes

Notes: I’ve posted the granola and biscotti recipes before but I have updated them a tiny bit. I am preferring things less sweet these days, so I’ve cut back the sugar in the biscotti by a quarter cup, and I don’t bother with the egg wash and sugar glaze before baking — the biscotti are just as delicious. And for the granola, I rarely bother making the candied almonds and cashews, (though they do add a nice touch if you plan on giving the granola as a gift.) I also have cut back the amount of coconut a teensy bit and replaced that amount with more sliced almonds. Again, the granola is just as delicious.

Vanilla-Almond Biscotti
Yield = About 30

Note: My original recipe, which is a little more fussy, offers instructions for folding in pistachios and dried cherries as well as for dipping in white or dark chocolate. It can be found here.

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1¼ cups sugar
¼ cup light brown sugar
2 eggs
1½ teaspoons vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup sliced almonds

1. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the sugars until well blended. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Add the vanilla and blend again.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in the sliced almonds. Add the dry ingredients to the mixer and blend on low-speed until just combined.

3. Remove the dough from the mixer and divide into two equal portions. Plop one portion onto a parchment paper- or Silpat- lined baking sheet. Form into a longish rectangle about an inch high. Repeat with remaining log. If you have the time, chill logs for an hour. (At this point, too, the logs can be wrapped in plastic wrap and chilled for as long as 3 days (maybe longer…never tried it).)

4. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the logs are evenly golden brown. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Carefully transfer logs to a cutting board. Cut the log crosswise on a slight bias with a sharp knife or a bench scraper. Lay the cut slices on their sides on the baking sheet. Return pan to the oven for another 5 minutes. Remove pan from oven. flip biscotti over, and return to the oven for another five minutes. Remove from the oven and let the biscotti cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooking rack. Cool completely.

almond coconut granola

Homemade Granola

Notes: As I mentioned above, I have blogged about this recipe before. The original recipe is much fussier, but take a look if you feel like adding more nuts and dried fruit in the mix.

4 cups (14 oz.) rolled oats
a scant 2 cups (6 oz.) unsweetened or sweetened, shredded coconut*
a heaping 2 cups (7.25 oz.) sliced almonds*
½ cup (4 oz.) vegetable oil
2/3 cup (7.25 oz) honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon sea salt or 1 teaspoon kosher salt

*Sorry for the imprecise measurements here. Originally, I used 2 cups of coconut and 2 cups of almonds. I now use my digital scale when I measure out these dry ingredients, so the 6 oz. of coconut (which comes out to be 1.8 cups) is accurate and the 7.25 oz. of almonds is accurate, but I’ve never used my dry measuring cups to figure out precise dry measurements. If this is your first time making this and you want to play is safe, just measure out 2 cups of each the coconut and the almonds. Next time around you will know how to adjust the quantities to get the sweetness right for you. Also, I recently (March 2013) stopped using sweetened shredded coconut in this recipe. Read this post if you are curious as to why.

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. In a large bowl, combine oats, coconut and almonds and gently stir or toss with your hands to mix well.

2. In a small saucepan, combine oil, honey, vanilla and salt and heat for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring to emulsify slightly. (Note: Sometimes I don’t even bother heating this — I just whisk it really well and then pour it over. It is a little harder to incorporate into the oats if you don’t heat it up, but I hate having to clean an extra pan. A quick zap in the microwave might be a good option? I don’t own one so I can’t advise on time.) Pour the oil mixture over the oat mixture and with a spatula stir until evenly coated.

3. Spread mixture onto a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and stir well, bringing the oat mixture closest to the edges into the center and pushing the center mixture towards the edges. Return to the oven and bake for 10 more minutes, checking when 1 to 2 minutes remain. Be very careful at the end: the coconut will burn easily, leaving the granola with a bitter, burnt taste. Remove pan from the oven, place on a cooling rack and leave undisturbed until completely cool, at least one hour.

almond coconut granola

Salted Oatmeal Cookies
Source: The Washington Post, June 13, 2007

Notes from the Washington Post:

This cookie is all about the oats, without much spice to interfere with their earthy taste. It’s also a great dough to make ahead and keep on hand to bake off a few when the urge hits. Refrigerate the dough for several days. The cookies can be stored in an airtight tin for up to 1 week.

Makes 18 cookies

Ingredients:

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon table salt (This is my addition — the original recipe calls for no salt in the actual cookie, but I think it needs it.)
2 cups rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Sea salt, for sprinkling

Directions:

(Notes: I’ve adjusted the order of instructions. If you’d like to see the original recipe, click here.)

1. In a large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter for a few minutes on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the stand mixer bowl and add the sugars, beating until the mixture is well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and table salt. Stir in the oats, and set aside.

2. Reduce the speed to medium and add the eggs and vanilla extract, mixing until incorporated. Reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary and mixing just until they are incorporated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill the dough for at least an hour before baking. (Notes: I like to portion my cookies before chilling because the dough is easier to work with. I also weigh my cookies — I know, it’s totally anal — but doing this does ensure even baking of the cookies. I portion this dough into 1.25 oz balls and then chill all of the balls for at least an hour before baking.)

3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

4. Form the dough into golf ball-size balls and place about 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. (I bake 6 at a time and flatten the balls slightly when placing them on the cookie sheet.) Sprinkle sea salt generously on top of each ball of dough. Bake 1 sheet at a time for 11 to 15 minutes or until the cookies are puffed and beginning to turn golden, being careful not to overbake. (Notes: Bake one batch and let cool completely before deciding on the time. I find that these cookies really continue cooking (like most cookies) once they’ve been removed from the oven, and these really are best when the center of the cookies is on the chewy/doughy side. I find 13 minutes to be about right.) Place the cookie sheet on a wire rack to cool completely.

salted oatmeal cookies

Honey Whole Wheat Bread
Yield= 2 traditional loafpan-sized loaves

2 + 2/3 cups coffee (at the most — I used less than 1 cup of coffee in this batch and substituted water for the remainder)
2/3 cup water
1/3 cup honey
1 package active dry yeast
1 T. kosher salt
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
4 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
4 cups all-purpose flour

1. Combine coffee, the 2/3 cup water and the honey in a large bowl or in a large bowl of a stand mixer. Stir yeast into 1/2 cup of lukewarm water. Let stand until dissolved then add to coffee mixture.

2. Whisk together salt, cornmeal and flours. If using a stand mixer, add all of the dry mixture to the wet mixture. Knead for about 8 minutes or until the dough is smooth and wrapped around the dough hook. If kneading by hand, stir in about half of the dry mixture. Add more and more of the mixture until you need to turn the dough out onto a work surface to get it all incorporated. Knead for about 8 minutes or until the dough is smooth.

3. Place dough in a large bowl greased with a light layer of olive oil. Turn dough to coat. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel (run a tea towel under hot water, ring it out, then place on top of bowl) and let rise until doubled in bulk (this may take as long as 2 hours). (Tip: If you are looking for a warm spot to let your dough to rise, turn your oven to its highest setting and let it warm for 1 minute. Turn off the heat, place your tea towel-covered bowl of dough inside and close the oven door.)

4. Once dough has doubled, punch it down. Grease two standard sized loaf pans generously with butter. Divide dough into two equal portions. Quickly shape each portion into a loaf-like mass and plop into prepared pans. Let rise until dough reaches just below the top of the pan. This may take as long as 45 minutes. (I like to place my loaf pans on top of the oven while it preheats. This usually speeds up the second rising.) Preheat oven for 375ºF.

5. Bake loaves for 45 minutes. Turn loaves out onto cooling rack. If you can refrain, let cool for at least 20 minutes before cutting.

toasted and buttered bread...so yummy

05. October 2011 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Breakfast, Cookies, Gifts | 20 comments

Eggplant Involtini

cooked involtini

On the fussiness scale, this recipe is up there. I hate to start on such a negative note, especially when these little ricotta-stuffed rolls turned out to be so stinking good, but I’ve become really lazy in the kitchen. When I see recipes that call for salting and draining and blotting dry, or for deep frying, or for assembling little parcels — as adorable as they may be — I tend to shy away.

But I’ve had this recipe bookmarked since last Christmas when I first opened Tartine Bread. And with eggplant season peaking and with my homemade tomato sauce and ricotta cheese obsession persisting, the timing seemed right. And right it was. Oh boy. Somehow the flavors of lemon and thyme in the ricotta cheese pervade the eggplant shells, all of which meld together with the fresh tomato and cream sauce base, a perfect combination in this early fall dish.

Seriously, please don’t let the opening of this post deter you from this recipe. Try to remember that I’m lazy, you’re not. I have to admit, too, that the dish came together much faster than I had anticipated. And while I begrudgingly trudged through each step of the recipe, I ultimately found myself enjoying the stuffing and the rolling and the assembling of the eggplant packages. I know you will, too.

Oh, one last thought. Are you thinking about baking this weekend? Perhaps with plums? If so, I recommend you take a look at these posts, one from The Garden of Eden and the other from House to Haus. I made the zwetschgentorte today actually — delicious! — and I can’t stop thinking about Darcy’s Plum crumble. Hoping to get around to it this weekend as well. Yum yum yum yum yum.

cooked involtini

lemon & thyme

fried eggplant

assembled involtini in dishes

involtini, rolled

Involtini

Adapted from Tartine Bread
Serves 2

Notes:
• I made a half recipe.
• The book offers a recipe for tomato sauce, which I’m sure is delicious, but I have been hooked on this one since discovering it.
• I used these fabulous mini gratin dishes, but feel free to use a standard sized baking dish.

Involtini

1 eggplant
kosher salt
olive oil for frying (I used canola oil)
tomato sauce, this is the one I adore, but feel free to use your favorite store-bought
heavy cream
freshly grated Asiago cheese or Parmigiano Reggiano (I used parm)

Stuffing

bread crumbs, about 1/2 cup, made from about 3 slices day-old bread*
1 cup whole milk ricotta, homemade is easy and delicious
grated zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, minced
1/4 tsp. kosher salt

1. Trim the stem end of each eggplant. Using a mandoline, cut the eggplant lenthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices. You should have about 12 slices. Sprinkle the eggplant on both sides with kosher salt, layer them in a colander, and let stand for 1 hour. (I was impatient and only let them drain for about a half hour… worked out just fine.) Press the moisture from the eggplant and blot them dry with paper towels. Pour olive (or canola) oil to a depth of 1 inch in a deep, heavy saucepan or large skillet (I used a cast iron pan) and heat to 360ºF on a deep-frying thermometer. (I did not use a thermometer — just watched the oil and tested when I thought it was ready.) Place 3 to 4 eggplant slices in the hot oil and cook until the slices take on some color, 3 to 4 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the slices to a colander (or paper-towel lined plate) to drain. Repeat with remaining slices.

2. Meanwhile, make the stuffing. In a bowl, stir together the bread crumbs, ricotta, lemon zest, juice, thyme and salt.

3. Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Spoon tomato sauce into a medium-sized baking dish (or individual gratin dishes) till bottom of dish is covered in a thin layer. Place a spoonful of filling at one end of each of the eggplant slices. Roll the slice around the filling and place it seam-side down in the dish on top of the tomato sauce. Spoon a tablespoon of cream (or less) over each roll to moisten. Bake until the edges of sauce around the sides of the dish are dark and the rolls are nicely caramelized, 20 to 25 minutes. Garnish with the Asiago (or parm) before serving.

* After burning a batch of homemade bread crumbs, I decided to go with Panko. If you want to make homemade, do something like this:

Homemade Bread Crumbs

3 slices day-old bread*, each 1-inch thick, torn into 1 1/2-inch chunks
2 T. olive oil
kosher salt
1/2 tsp. herbes de provence** (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. In a bowl, toss the torn bread with the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Add the herbes if using. Spread the bread evenly on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown and crisp, about 15 minutes. Midway through baking, redistribute the croutons if they are coloring unevenly. Once cooled, place croutons in a ziplock bag and using a rolling pin or your hands, crumble them more finely.

involtini, one down

29. September 2011 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Entrees, Vegetarian | 92 comments

Addictive Kale Caesar Salad with Brioche Croutons

kale caesar salad with brioche croutons

I have a question for all of you mortar and pestle users out there: Do you find us knife-wielding, blender-pulsing, whisk-twirling folk offensive? You probably do. I suspect Tartine’s Chad Robertson would not approve of my adaptation of his caesar dressing recipe. I used a knife first, and then a whisk. I’m not going to lie. I didn’t even reach for the mortar and pestle.

I suppose I shouldn’t be so skeptical of a technique before trying it, but the idea of using a pestle to work olive oil into a stable emulsion scared me. I’m just not that hard core. And as I read the recipe over and over again, I couldn’t help but think about who I was dealing with — did you know that Robertson doesn’t even own a toaster? It’s true. He and his wife, Liz Prueitt, toast their bread in a black steel omelet pan instead. That’s hard core. I’m just not there. I reached for an old standby: Whisk. He did not fail me. This dressing, made without mayonnaise or cheese, is lemony and lighter than most caesar dressings and is a wonderful complement to kale, an unsuspecting substitute in a classic dish.

I find this salad addictive. I’ve always loved kale wilted in soups or sautéed with garlic and tossed into pastas. And I love it in the form of chips. But I never imagined enjoying it raw until I dined at True Food Kitchen, where they serve a Tuscan kale salad made with bread crumbs, grated Pecorino and crushed red pepper flakes. It’s a delicious combination. Since discovering Robertson’s kale caesar last week, I’ve made it twice more, and I suspect it will be a mainstay on the dinner table this fall and winter. I’m already looking forward to it.

Kale from our Olin-Fox Farm CSA:
caesar dressing ingredients

kale caesar salad with brioche croutons

I finally got around to making the brioche recipe in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. It is delicious. I made several loaves of bread as well as a batch of the Sticky Pecan Caramel Rolls with the dough, and will report back on that shortly. I also used leftover brioche to make the croutons, which were delicious, but an unnecessary treat — any good bakery-style bread will suffice for these croutons.

homemade brioche

The Tartine Bread crouton recipe calls for an optional pinch of herbes de provence, which added a surprisingly nice flavor to the croutons.

brioche croutons, unbaked

brioche croutons, baked

Kale Caesar Salad
Adapted from Tartine Bread
Serves: 4 to 6

Note: The measurements below are those that are given in the book. Obviously, adjust quantities as needed. I tossed enough kale for two people with dressing to taste. I also added the croutons and Parmigiano Reggiano to taste.

2 lbs. black, Tuscan or dinosaur kale, center stems removed, and torn
croutons (recipe below)
2/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Caesar dressing (recipe below)

In a large bowl, combine the kale and croutons. Pour the dressing to taste over top and toss to coat. Add the Parmesan, toss again, and serve.

Caesar Dressing

Note: I made a half-batch of this recipe. I did not use a mortar and pestle, but if you are an adept m&p user, feel free. Also, if you have a caesar dressing that you love, feel free to substitute that in. In essence, this recipe is no more than a traditional caesar salad with kale swapped in for romaine. That said, I do really like this dressing — made without mayonnaise or cheese, it’s lemony and lighter than most caesar dressings I’ve come across.

2 lemons or 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar*
3 cloves garlic
6 olive oil-packed anchovy fillets
1 large egg yolk
kosher salt
2 cups olive oil

*Update: I have been making this dressing a lot — all winter and spring in fact — and I actually prefer making it with white balsamic vinegar than with lemon juice. It is so easy and delicious. This is what I do: Finely mince 3 cloves garlic with 3 anchovy fillets — I add a pinch of salt while I’m mincing and drag my knife across the mash to help make a paste. Whisk in the egg yolk and the 1/4 cup white balsamic. Slowly drizzle in olive oil, whisking constantly until a thick dressing forms. I never measure the olive oil, so I can’t say exactly how much, but it’s probably about a cup or less.

1. To make the dressing, grate the zest from 1 lemon. Cut both lemons in half. Place the garlic, anchovies and lemon zest in a mortar and pound with a pestle to make a thick paste. (Alternatively, mince the garlic, anchovies and zest together on a cutting board. Add a pinch of salt, and mince further. Every so often, using the side of your knife, drag the mixture against the cutting board to create a paste. Transfer to a bowl.)

2. Add the egg yolk, a pinch of salt, and a squeeze of lemon juice and stir thoroughly to combine. Continuing to stir, begin adding the oil drop by drop. (Note: If you’re not using a m&p, whisk in the oil drop by drop.) The mixture should look smooth and creamy, a sign that you are building a stable emulsion. Continuing to stir (or whisk), begin adding the oil in a slow steady stream. The dressing should thicken. Periodically, stop pouring in the oil and add a squeeze of lemon. Taste the dressing and add more salt and lemon juice to taste. Add water, a small spoonful at a time, stirring to thin dressing to the consistency of heavy cream.

Croutons

3 slices day-old bread*, each 1-inch thick, torn into 1 1/2-inch chunks
2 T. olive oil
kosher salt
1/2 tsp. herbes de provence** (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. In a bowl, toss the torn bread with the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Add the herbes if using. Spread the bread evenly on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown and crisp, about 15 minutes. Midway through baking, redistribute the croutons if they are coloring unevenly.

Notes:
* I used day-old brioche (recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, which I have yet to post), which was totally delicious but also unnecessary — any good (non-enriched) bread will do.
** This is normally an ingredient I would just as soon leave out, but I was surprised at what a nice subtle flavor the herbes added. I did not add 1/2 tsp. — a pinch was enough.

kale caesar salad with brioche croutons

22. September 2011 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Appetizers, Baking, Lunch, Salads, Sauces, dressings, jams & spreads, Side dishes, Vegetarian | 13 comments

Two Awesome Food Gifts: Rancho Gordo Beans & Tcho Chocolates

Rancho Gordo beans, cookbook and postcards

I just turned 30. I was having a hard time with it until several of my friends and family members showered me with some fantastic gifts. Gosh, I sound so shallow, but take a look above and below. Are these not fantastic gifts?

Many of you have heard of Rancho Gordo. Several years ago at the SF Ferry building, I purchased a few bags of RG alubia criollos, a small white bean which turned out to be heavenly in this salad. I had all but forgotten about these buttery, creamy, heirloom beans until a dear friend’s father and I started exchanging emails about — wait for it — beans! The next thing I knew I was staring into a care package spilling with all things RG — beans, postcards, a cookbook, and a brown paper bag stamped with the RG logo… adorable. I’ve never been so excited to see so many bean-related goods. I’ll report back soon on the yumminess RG has brought to my life.

On to the chocolates. Have you all heard of Gilt Taste? If you haven’t, prepare to spend a considerable amount of time ooing and ahhing over their offerings. Seriously, like don’t visit the site if you have anything pressing on your schedule. I want one of everything. And I want to send everyone I know one of everything. This could be dangerous come December.

I had not heard of Gilt Taste until I received this 30-day supply of Tcho chocolates. Not only is the Tcho packaging beautifully designed and fun to inspect — it is adorned with entertaining phrases such as, “Take as needed for inspiration, happy heart, coping, focus, optimism and even euphoria,” — but the chocolates are some of the best I’ve ever tasted. What more would anyone want on their 30th birthday? Besides an RG care package?

Nothing at all. Thank you dear friends for my gifts! And one last thing: I have started pinning my favorite food-related gifts on Pinterest, also a new phenomenon for me and one that I am really enjoying. See that red “P” icon in the upper right-hand corner of my blog? That’s where you will always be able to find this food-gift pinboard. It’s obviously not very complete at the moment, but I’m hoping to have a nice collection of ideas before the holidays.

Sources:

Rancho Gordo
Gilt Taste
Tcho Chocolates

Tcho Chocolates

Rancho Gordo beans, cookbook and postcards

Rancho Gordocookbook

20. September 2011 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Gifts | 3 comments

Bacon, Cheddar and Pear Panini

bacon, cheddar and pear panini

I do not know how to make a grilled cheese sandwich. It’s just one of those things, like pancakes and French toast, that burns on the outside for me before it’s done on the inside. A little over a year ago, I found a solution to my French toast woes, but I’m still searching for the equivalent recipe for pancakes: Can you bake pancakes? That would be amazing.

In any case, I do know how to make a panini, which is to say that I know how to take out my Krups panini machine, plug it in, and let it do its magic on whatever assembled sandwich I place between its irons.

I love my panini machine. Its genius. Within minutes of getting to work, it perfectly brands both slices of bread with nice grill marks, thoroughly heating everything else in between while allowing just a touch of cheese to ooze out its side (for presentation purposes obviously… such a thoughtful gadget.) If you can afford the kitchen real estate for a rather large uni-purpose tool, I highly recommend adding one of these presses to your arsenal of equipment. And while I’ve never tried one of these cast iron models, I imagine they might be quite good? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Anywho, I mentioned this sandwich last week while posting about thyme-roasted grapes — so delicious. Both recipes appeared in this month’s Real Simple magazine, and both are fantastic, though I must note there is nothing novel about the combination here. A double pairing of sweet and salty — jam and bacon, cheddar and pear — makes every bite worth savoring. I find the combination irresistible and even served these at a little dinner party. Casual is the new cool, right? It was fun, and at the very least, a lovely way to welcome fall.

bacon, cheddar and pear panini

panini ingredients

Mmmmmm… bacon. I don’t know how you cook bacon, but I like to place mine on a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast it at 400ºF for about 20 minutes. It cooks evenly and isn’t as messy as stove-top cooking.
cooked bacon

bacon, cheddar and pear panini

Bacon, Cheddar and Pear Panini
Adapted from Real Simple September 2011
Serves 1, (obviously, this recipe can be multiplied as necessary)

Note: For the original recipe, follow this link.

1 tablespoon jam, such as currant or fig or Ikea’s lingonberry (what I used)
2 slices of nice, bakery-style bread, from a multigrain or Italian boule for example
2 slices Cheddar
2 slices cooked bacon
1/4 small pear, thinly sliced

1. Heat a panini machine. (Note: If you want to make a grilled cheese, follow the directions on the RS website — link is above.) Spread the jam on 1 slice of the bread. Layer the pear, bacon and cheddar on top.

2. Press the sandwich in the panini machine until the bread is toasted and the cheese is melted, 3 to 5 minutes total depending on your machine.

bacon, pear and cheddar panini

15. September 2011 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Entrees, Lunch | 19 comments

Lunch: Roasted Grapes with Thyme, Fresh Ricotta & Grilled Bread

Roasted Grapes with Fresh Ricotta on Grilled Bread

Oh, hello there. Sorry to do this again while you’re all busy working, but I feel compelled to share another lunch with you: roasted grapes with thyme over grilled bread and fresh ricotta…yummmmmm. I promise to only do this when I really mean it. This recipe comes from this month’s Real Simple magazine, and fittingly, it couldn’t be more simple or delicious.

I first made this over the weekend as a side dish, omitting the bread, just spooning the warm, thyme-infused grapes over a dollop of homemade ricotta. It was delectable. Why omit the bread, you ask? Well, because the main dish was pear and bacon panini, and serving grilled bread aside panini seemed like overkill. BTW, the pear and bacon sandwiches (another September RS recipe) were fabulous — hoping to report back on those soon.

What I love about this recipe is its versatility. It’s delicious with or without bread. It could be served with any number of cheeses. It could be served at a casual lunch as an open-faced sandwich or at a fancy dinner party as a beautiful hors d’oeuvres.

And what I can’t stop dreaming about doing is this: making an all-white pizza (perhaps with homemade ricotta, Parmigiano Reggiano, and mozzarella) and, as soon as the pie emerges from the oven, topping it with these just-bursting, sweet-salty grapes. I’ll let you know when that day arrives.

Roasted Grapes with Thmye, Fresh Ricotta & Grilled Bread
Adapted from Real Simple Magazine September 2011 (Sorry, can’t find a direct link.)
Yield = However much you would like

Note: I actually don’t even have the recipe in front of me! My aunt ran off to Alexandria with it, and I am writing this from memory. The recipe is not complicated at all, but if you want the real deal, pick up the September 2011 Real Simple.

grapes
olive oil
kosher salt
fresh thyme sprigs

good rustic bread, sliced into 1/2-inch thick pieces
olive oil

fresh ricotta, preferably homemade (recipe below)

1. Preheat oven to 450ºF. Spread grapes onto a sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Lay thyme leaves over top. Toss all together gently with your hands. Place pan in the oven for 7 to 9 minutes or until grapes just begin to burst. I prefer the shorter roasting time — it’s nice when some of the grapes remain in tact.

2. Meanwhile, heat a grill or grill pan to medium-high. Brush the bread with olive oil. Grill until nice and toasty.

3. Assemble the open-faced sandwiches: Spread fresh ricotta over bread. Top with roasted grapes. Discard thyme sprigs. (While the thyme sprigs look pretty, it’s a little impractical to serve the sandwiches with the sprigs…they don’t taste so yummy.)

Homemade Ricotta
Source: The Barefoot Contessa via Goop
Serves: Makes about 2 cups

Set a large sieve over a deep bowl. Dampen 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.
Pour the milk and stream into a stainless steel or enameled pot such as Le Creuset. Stir in the salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Allow the mixture to stand for 1 minute until it curdles. It will separate into thick parts (the curds) and milky parts (the whey).

Pour the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl. The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta. (I tend to like mine on the thicker side but some prefer it moister.) Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth and any remaining whey. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep refrigerated for 4 to 5 days.

Roasted Grapes aside Fresh Ricotta and Grilled Bread

Grapes tossed with thyme, olive oil and salt:
Grapes tossed with Thyme, Salt and Olive Oil

Grapes just removed from the oven:
Roasted Grapes with Thyme, Salt and Olive Oil

07. September 2011 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Appetizers, appetizers2, Cheese, Lunch, Side dishes, Vegetarian | 55 comments

Cinnamon Rolls — Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day Style

cinnamon rolls

I had no expectations for these cinnamon rolls. I’m still in disbelief in fact about how incredibly delicious they tasted. I mean, I knew the brown sugar and butter and pecans slathered in the pan and rolled into the dough would create a cinnamon roll affect, but I didn’t expect the dough itself — just a standard bread dough (water, flour, yeast, salt) — to have that enriched brioche-like flavor. How could a no-butter, no-sugar, no-egg, no-milk dough yield a nearly perfect if not perfect cinnamon roll? That’s a question perhaps better answered by all of you experienced bakers out there. I’m stumped. Replete, content and stumped.

I made this recipe on a whim. I had already baked off 3 smallish loaves of bread from my batch of Artisan Bread in Five dough — the master recipe yields 4 loaves — and I wanted to try something new. In the preface to the book’s Sticky Pecan Caramel Roll recipe, the authors note that the recipe works — and works well — with their standard boule dough, and so I went for it. And I’m so glad I did. Oh man were these good. I don’t know how an enriched-dough could improve the flavor, but I’m curious. As soon as I recover from my sticky bun binge, which might take a few more weeks, I’m going to give the ABin5 brioche dough a go. I’m already looking forward to that happy morning.

If you like this recipe, check out the ABin5 blog. Oh my, this monkey bread looks fabulous. And here are some other ABin5 loaves I have tried:

Traditional Boule
Cinnamon Swirl Bread — an absolute favorite
Partially Whole Wheat Boule
Broa — Portuguese Corn Bread – not sweet corn bread but bread with cornmeal

cinnamon rolls

cinnamon rolls

The Master Recipe: Boule
Adapted From Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François
Yield = Four 1-pound loaves. Recipe can be doubled or halved

3 cups lukewarm water
1½ T. granulated yeasts (1½ packets)
1½ T. kosher or other coarse salt
6½ cups (29.25 oz.) unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour, measured with the scoop-and-sweep method

Mixing and Storing the Dough
1. Warm the water slightly: It should feel just a little warmer than body temperature, about 100ºF.

2. Add yeast and salt to the water in a five-quart bowl, or preferably, in a resealable, lidded (not airtight) plastic food container or food-grade bucket. Don’t worry about getting it all to dissolve. (I added the yeast, then the flour and then the salt on top of the flour to avoid killing any of the yeast, but apparently this is unnecessary.)

3. Mix in the flour: Add all of the flour at once, measuring it with dry-ingredient measuring cups, by gently scooping the flour, then sweeping the top level with a knife or spatula; don’t press down into the flour as you scoop or you’ll throw off the measurement by compressing. Mix with a wooden spoon. If necessary, reach into your mixing vessel with very wet hands and press the mixture together. Don’t knead! It isn’t necessary. You’re finished when everything is uniformly moist, without dry patches. Dough should be wet and loose enough to conform to the shape of the container.

4. Allow to rise: Cover with a lid (not airtight) that fits well to the container you’re using. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattens on the top), approximately two hours. You can use a portion of the dough any time after this period, but fully refrigerated dough is less sticky and is easier to work with. So, the first time you try this method, it’s best to refrigerate the dough overnight before shaping a loaf.

If you want to make standard boules, continue with step 5 here.

Sticky Pecan Caramel Rolls

1 1/2 lbs. of pre-mixed dough (recipe above)
Note: My portion of dough weighed 1 lb 12 oz., so the recipe is relatively flexible in this sense. I did have to whip up a little bit more butter-cinnamon-and-sugar filling, however, to compensate for the larger surface area.

The Caramel Topping
6 T. unsalted butter, softened
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
30 pecan halves (I crushed up my pecan halves, but feel free to leave them whole if you wish)

The Filling
4 T. salted butter, softened (I used unsoftened)
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg (I did not use)
1/2 cup chopped and toasted pecans (I did not toast)
Pinch of ground black pepper (I did not use.)

1. On baking day, cream together the butter, salt and brown sugar. Spread evenly over the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan. Scatter the pecans over the butter-sugar mixture and set aside. (Note: I experienced terrible spillage, which resulted in a burnt oven floor. Soooo, if you have a pan with high sides, that might work best. Otherwise, place a pan (disposable or not) on the rack below your pan to catch the spillage.

2. Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1.5 lb piece. Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it 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. (Note: I didn’t really do this. I simply placed my piece of dough (Which was a little bit larger than 1.5 lbs.) on my work surface and stretched it out into a rectangle.)

3. With a rolling pin, roll out the dough to a 1/8-inch thick rectangle. As you roll out the dough, use enough flour to prevent it from sticking to the work surface but not so much as to make the dough dry. If the dough is being stubborn, let it sit for 20 minutes, then come back to it with the rolling pin.

4. Cream together the butter, sugar and spices. Spread evenly over the rolled-out dough and sprinkle with the chopped nuts. (I had to make a little bit more of this mixture to cover the surface area of my dough.) Starting with the long side, roll the dough into a log. If the dough is too soft to cut, let it chill for 20 minutes. (Note: My dough was very soft, but I was too impatient to chill it.)

5. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. With a serrated knife, cut the log into 8 equal pieces and arrange over the pecans in the prepared, with the “swirled” edge facing upward. (Not sure what the “swirled” edge means — they were both swirled as far as I could tell?) Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rest and rise 1 hour. Note: I basically just let my rolls rise for 20 minutes. As soon as the buns started filling up the pan, I popped the pan in the oven.

6. Bake buns about 40 minutes or until golden brown and well set in center. While still hot, run a knife around the inside of the pan to release the caramel rolls, and invert immediately onto a serving dish. If you let them sit too long, they will stick to the pan and be difficult to turn out.

cinnamon rolls

01. September 2011 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Bread, Breakfast | 31 comments

Lunch: Tomatoes, Ricotta, Grilled Bread

Tomato Salad with Homemade Ricotta and Grilled Bread

Oh, hi there. Just a quick little post here. I couldn’t resist sharing my lunch with all of you. I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty happy with it. And it took all of about 5 minutes to throw together. Of course, I did have some wonderful leftovers on hand: homemade ricotta (a little obsessed with this right now) and a loaf of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day… I had forgotten about this recipe. Yum.

Anyway, hope you’re all having a good week!

Tomato Salad with Fresh Ricotta and Grilled Bread
Serves 1

A couple of tomatoes
extra-virgin olive oil
balsamic vinegar
kosher salt
fresh basil
homemade ricotta (recipe below)
a loaf of bread suitable for grilling

1. Cut tomatoes into nice chunks and place in a bowl. Season with salt. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic. Toss with fresh basil. Place in a bowl with a nice dollop of fresh ricotta on the side.

2. Heat a grill or grill pan. Brush with olive oil. Grill bread until nice and toasted. Serve along side your salad and cheese.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese
Source: The Barefoot Contessa via Goop
Serves: Makes about 2 cups

4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons good white wine vinegar

1. Set a large sieve over a deep bowl. Dampen 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.

2. Pour the milk and stream into a stainless steel or enameled pot such as Le Creuset. Stir in the salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Allow the mixture to stand for 1 minute until it curdles. It will separate into thick parts (the curds) and milky parts (the whey).

3. Pour the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl. The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta. (I tend to like mine on the thicker side but some prefer it moister.) Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth and any remaining whey. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep refrigerated for 4 to 5 days.

29. August 2011 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Appetizers, Lunch, Salads, Side dishes, Vegetarian | 7 comments

Chez Panisse Eggplant, Caramelized Onion and Tomato Pasta

Gemelli with Eggplant, Tomato and Caramelized Onions

I don’t know about you, but I’m up to my eyeballs in eggplants here. My CSA delivery last week could have fed a small village, and I’m still feeling a little overwhelmed. Overwhelmed in a good way though. I mean, I’ve been eating my way though a very delicious eggplant chapter in Chez Panisse Vegetables, so far delighting in eggplant gratin with tomato and onion, and roasted eggplant and tomato pizza. I know, it’s been rough.

But this pasta. Oooooh, this pasta. This pasta recipe unexpectedly has eclipsed its chapter companions, its deliciousness attributed to perfectly ripe eggplant, the freshest tomato sauce, sweet basil, caramelized onions, and above all to a most unsuspecting ingredient: sherry vinegar. I don’t know how just a splash of anything could so transform a dish, giving it a depth of flavor that subtly persists through layers of tomatoes and eggplant and onions, but somehow the sherry vinegar has.

There’s something, too, about the way the roasted eggplant melds with the caramelized onions and the tomato sauce that makes cheese totally unnecessary. No cheese on pasta, you ask? Hogwash, you shout!  I mean it. This roasted eggplant tomato sauce spiced with crushed red pepper flakes and freshened with basil was enough for me. I even had some homemade ricotta in the fridge. I even had a bowl of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano sitting inches from my plate throughout dinner. I had no trouble refraining.

While I know a bowl of hot pasta perhaps isn’t crossing your mind very often in late summer, eggplants are reaching their peak right about now, and they are oh so good. Give this recipe a go. It’s a keeper for sure.

Finally, if you like  summer pastas, you might like this dish, too.

Chez Panisse Vegetables Cookbook

Eggplant from our Olin-Fox Farm CSA:
eggplant from our CSA

eggplant, uncooked and cooked

Making the Sauce

Eggplant, Tomato and Caramelized Onion Sauce

Gemelli with Eggpplant and Tomato

Adapted from Chez Panisse Vegetables
Serves 4 to 6 (or 2 generously…see my notes for a smaller yield)

2 large globe eggplants (I used 1 eggplant, which yielded about 3 cups of diced eggplant weighing about 9.5oz)
olive oil
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced (about 2 cups sliced)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 handful basil leaves
1 handful parsley leaves (I used only basil)
kosher salt
1 lb. penne (I used 1 cup of Gemelli pasta but use whatever you like)
sherry vinegar
2 cups tomato sauce (I used 1 cup of this sauce)
red pepper flakes
1/2 lb. ricotta salata cheese (I used no cheese, but served grated Parmigiano Reggiano on the side.)

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Cut the eggplants into cubes about 3/4-inch square, toss them lightly with olive oil and spread them out in a single layer on a sheet pan. (Note: I’ve made this twice now, and my instinct the first time was to toss the eggplant with some kosher salt before roasting. The instructions don’t call for this, and second time around, I used no salt, and I think the eggplant came out better.) Roast in the oven for 25 minutes or so, until the eggplant is brown and tender.

2. Put a large (or small) pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Add a large pinch of kosher salt. Cook the pasta al dente.

3. Meanwhile, heat a large sauté pan with the olive oil and onions over medium heat. Sauté the onions until just caramelized. (Note: I started the onions when I put the eggplant in the oven — I find that caramelizing onions slowly over medium heat works best. I also added a pinch of kosher salt while sautéeing. The onions probably sautéed for 25 minutes to 30 minutes total.) Add the garlic and cook for a moment more, and then deglaze with a splash of sherry vinegar. Add the eggplant, tomato sauce, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Heat the sauce to simmering. Drain the pasta, add it to the tomato sauce pan, and toss gently. Chiffonade the basil and add it the pan.

4. Serve the pasta with a generous garnish of the chopped parsley (I omitted) and ricotta crumbled over the top (I also omitted, but served Parmigiano Reggiano on the side.)

Gemelli with Eggplant, Tomato and Caramelized Onions

25. August 2011 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: CSA, Eating Locally, Entrees, Pasta, Sauces, dressings, jams & spreads, Vegetarian | 12 comments

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