Monday, May 21, 2012

Wheat Bread

Now that I am back I have been baking and cooking up a storm and my house just smells wonderful everyday.  My husband comes home and looks forward to the "next" great meal.  

The more I look at the way Americans eat the more I want to make things in my own kitchen over buying them; IE processed foods.  It only takes a bit of time and a bit of fore thought and you can know what you are eating.

Over the past few weeks I have been looking more & more at what my husband & I eat.  We shop mostly in the outer ring of the market (and if we do buy something in the aisles it is organic).  We have planted our first garden and cannot wait to reap the "fruits of our labor" in a few months.  But mostly I have been looking to making more things home-made and less store bought.

One thing we eat a lot of ... or a loaf of a week is bread.  So I thought to myself why not make bread and if I make enough of it, I can freeze it.  I love toast.  Yes it is a strange thing to love but it is one of my favorite things to eat, and since I eat toast everyday with breakfast, bread is a perfect thing to make home made in place of processes bread. There are so many recipes for bread on the web you can get very over-whelmed by them.  The one I used came from All Recipes and was very easy to make. 

This is what I did

Wheat Bread 
3 cups of warm water
2 packages of dry active yeast
1/3 cup of honey
5 cups of bread flour
3 tablespoons of melted butter
1/3 cup of honey
1 tablespoon of salt
3 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons melted butter

In a large bowl, mix warm water, yeast, and 1/3 cup honey. Add 5 cups white bread flour, and stir to combine. Let set for 30 minutes, or until big and bubbly.

Mix in 3 tablespoons melted butter, 1/3 cup honey, and salt. Stir in 2 cups whole wheat flour. Flour a flat surface and knead with whole wheat flour until not real sticky - just pulling away from the counter, but still sticky to touch. This may take an additional 2 to 4 cups of whole wheat flour. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to coat the surface of the dough. Cover with a dishtowel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled. 

Punch down, and divide into 3 loaves. Place in greased 9 x 5 inch loaf pans, and allow to rise until dough has topped the pans by one inch. 

Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 25 to 30 minutes; do not over bake. Lightly brush the tops of loaves with 2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine when done to prevent crust from getting hard. Cool completely and serve. 

Now that I have started to make my own bread I cannot go to the store and buy bread, it just is not the same.Yes it takes a bit of time and a bit of work but in the end it is so worth it to make your own bread.


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Lemon Bars

I'm back!!!

I had to take a break from Blogging for a while.  But I am back now!!! It took much thought and many folks asking where I have been and why have I not added anything new, today is the day I come back to blogging and talking about food.  And who doesn't love talking about food.

A few weeks ago I ended up with the biggest bag of lemons in my kitchen and they were slowly starting to go bad.  I wanted to use them for something yummy but could only think of lemon meringue pie, which is one of my favorite desserts, but this was not the answer.  I searched though many magazines and on-line sites then I found it ... Lemon Bars.  They are rich, tart, and so yummy.

Lemon is that flavor that can be so luscious, since it can be sweet to tart and all in the middle.  I found a recipe in Food Network Magazine, that had no picture but all these ingredients listed and it sounded easy and yummy, knew this was the one. 

This is what I did ...

Lemon Bars 
for the CRUST
Vegetable oil for greasing
1 1/2 sticks of cold unsalted butter, diced
2 cups of all purpose flour
1/4 cup of packed brown sugar
1/4 cup of confectioners sugar
1/4 teaspoon of salt

for the FILLING
4 large eggs plus 2 egg yolks
2 cups of granulated sugar
1/3 cup of all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of lemon zest
1 cup of fresh squeezed and strained lemon juice (6-8 lemons)

To make the crust: preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9x13 foil lined pan with the oil, leaving 2 inch overhang on all four sides.  Combine butter, flour, both sugars, and salt in food processor or stand mixer, until dough comes together.  Press it evenly into the bottom of the pan, make sure there are no cracks.  Bake crust till golden brown, approx 25 minutes. 

While the crust is in the oven, now its tame to make the filling.  Whisk all the eggs, sugar, and four until smooth.  Whisk in the lemon zest and juice. 

Remove the crust from the oven and reduce the temperature to 300 degrees (and if you forget don't worry, they will still come just as good).  Pour the filling over the crust and return to oven for 30-35 minutes.

Let the bars cool in the pan, then move to the refrigerator to completely cool, and become firm (approx 2 hours.  Using the foil lift out of the pan and cut into squares or bars.  Dust with confectioners sugar before serving. 

One of the greatest things about the recipe is the fact that the Microplane can be used.  This is my new favorite kitchen tool.  I never thought I would love it so much but I do and everyone should get one.  the zest it makes is so fine and delicate, it keeps the filling smooth & creamy.  A must have for anyone. 

So if you love lemon as much as I do you should try this dessert.


Monday, December 26, 2011

Shepard's Pie

Shepard's Pie is one of those dishes that I did not grow up as a child eating but fell in love with after I met my husband. He is that kind of guy who really likes comfort food as much as he likes to eat out at fine restaurants, makes for very eclectic meals. And believe it or not it was my husband who taught me how to make Shepard's Pie.

In the past I have blogged about Cottage Pie which is quite similar to Shepard's Pie but has more ingredients and takes more time to prepare. The nice thing about Shepard's Pie is there are really only three ingredients that make this delicious dish.

Here is what you do ...

Shapard's Pie
1 1/3-1 1/2 lbs of ground meat (ground turkey, ground beef or meatloaf mix will suffice)
salt n pepper (or your favorite seasonings)
1 can of cream corn
1 cup of frozen corn (frozen corn has more flavor than canned corn)
5-6 medium potatoes (boiled and mashed)

Cook the ground beef in a skillet till golden brown. Add the salt n pepper and favorite seasonings while cooking meat. I also sometimes add a sauteed onion and crushed garlic for more flavor.

When meat is finished drain all the grease and cover bottom of 9 x 13 baking dish.

Cover the meat with the can of cream corn and add a layer of the frozen corn.

Lastly cover top with mashed potatoes. You can also sprinkle some cheese and paprika over top for flavor.

Bake in over for 30-45 minutes. Let rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

This is one of those dishes that gets better with age. We find that the second day is much better than the first.

So when you are in a bind for what to make for dinner, if you have corn, ground meat, and potatoes try this great Yummy dish.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Carlo's Bakery

A couple of weeks ago my family and I went on a weekend road trip to New Jersey to see a play, The Nutcracker & I, another family member had in production. We really had no plans for the weekend other than the play and thought we would just make it up as we went along. When we checked into our hotel in New Jersey we found out we were 5 miles from the TV famous Carlo's Bakery in Hoboken, NJ. Since my family is Italian and love Modern Pastry in North End, we knew this Bakery was going to be one of our stops.

The town of Hoboken is very sweet and adorable. We wished we had more time to walk down the road the bakery is on, but our time waiting to get into the bakery consumed most of our time. In Hoboken there are so many little shops, and restaurants to stop at, so we decided the the next time we come we are most definitely going to spend more time in Hoboken, NJ to explore. You see the reason we did not have time was going to this bakery is an all day affair, it took us about four hours from the time we got in line to the time I made my purchase. We got in line around 10:am and got a number, around noonish we were in front of the bakery awaiting to go in, around 1:30/2:pm I made my purchase.

When you get inside the small Bakery the smell brings you to a true Italian Bakery. There are cakes, cookies, pastries of all kinds to drool over in crystal clear glass cases. Which makes it so hard to decide what you want to bring home. The one thing to remember is we still had to wait for our number to be called once we were inside the bakery, but those smells wafting from the kitchen were enough to fill my belly till #71 was called.

Italian Cookies


The night before my Mom & I went on the Carlo's web site to think about what kind of treat we wanted to take home with us. There are so many to choose from but since I have my favorite that would be what I would get, sfoilletella.

If you are a reader of my blog you already know I go to the North End to get sfoilletella early on a Saturday morning when they are still hot to bring home for desert that afternoon. These are my favorite treats and I am quite picky when it comes to them. Only Modern Pastry in the North End makes the best (you can also get them at Caffe Victoria's with a cafe latte, since they get theirs from Modern Pastry). In my opinion they cannot have candied fruit in them and they must be the right mix of textures, from soft creamy interior to crunchy, flaky exterior.

I know I have high standards but I had to see if this bakery could live up to them. At first glance I noticed they are much smaller than the ones you get in the North End, but they looked so yummy.

My tied box of treats


As you can see I picked up a half dozen of them. We waited till we got home to have our treats, and found that the Modern Pastry still has the best Sfoilletella around. The ones from Carlo's did not have any candied fruit, which is good, and had great texture, but there was something off with the flavor and none of us could figure it out. So the next time we pick up some Sfoilletella we are going to the North End.

The one thing I will say is we went to Carlo's Bakery, we missed the Cake Boss, at least we have family photos of us in front of the bakery, and a good story to tell our grand-children.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Pickity Place

This week my Mom & I decided to go on an adventure to Pickity Place in Mason, NH. I personally have never gone but my Mom was there once with her Garden Club, but it was so long ago she was excited to go again. After I read about it I knew this would be the perfect place.

We drove and drove to get there, and we drove mostly back roads, through the woods. And how funny that we drove through the woods since the house the restaurant is in, is the original House that the story Little Red Riding Hood was illustrated from. There is even this huge oak tree in front of the house that is in the book as well.

The house is so old there are really no level floors, low ceilings, narrow doorways, and three small rooms to eat it. The grounds and the samll cottage have such a New Hampshire feeling you cannot help but fall in love the minute you step out of your car. Over the past few years it looks like they have added a solarium to eat in that overlooks the gardens, which must be so beautiful in the summertime.

The nice thing about going here is they have a fixed 5 course menu that changes each month. Since we just went last week if you go between now and the end of December you can experience the same menu. This is what we had ...

Crackers with Sun Dried Tomato Pesto Spread

Golden Russet and Creamy Carrot Soup

Apple Pecan Slaw

Winter Solstice Fruit Bread with Cranberry Lemon Butter

Chicken & Eggplant Neapolitan


Winter Vegetable Cassoulet

Pickled Red Cabbage

Brandied Eggnog Pie

When you look at the menu they always have a Vegetarian dish on the menu (that was the one I had) and it was so good I forgot they was no meat or chicken. Every course is delivered to you, with some kind of herbs that came right from their garden, how awesome is that.

All I know id the menu for January looks like comfort food at its max I am looking for someone to go with me? Any takers ... I know you will live every morsel that you eat.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Cranberry Muffins

A couple of weeks ago a relative of mine was leaving for Florida for the winter and was cleaning out their fridge for the winter and found a bag of cranberries, and some how these cranberries ended up in my freezer. I was thinking I would make home-made cranberry sauce for our Annual Turkey Dinner, but instead I made muffins.

You see I am from Massachusetts where I think the most cranberries are produced annually, at Ocean Spray in Plymouth, MA. You must understand that as a kid in school one field trip a year in Elementary School is to the Mayflower ship, Plymouth Rock, and the Ocean Spray factory. Cranberries are a very cool fruit, not only how they grow but especially how they are harvested by flooding the bogs and skimming the surface to harvest all the little berries. Berries that pack almost as much flavor in them as Pom berries from Pomegranates.

Cranberries are not always the first fruit I go to when I am making muffins. I usually think of bananas or apples, but it is fall in New England and cranberries are the in fruit now. The funny thing about cranberries, much like Toll House Chocolate Chips, there is a recipe for Cranberry Nut Bread on the package, that was the starting point to these muffins.

This is what I did ...
Cranberry Muffins
2 cups of flour
1 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3/4 cup of orange juice
1 egg
2 cups of cranberries
2 teaspoons of sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare muffin pan by lining the muffin cups.

Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the wet ingredients and mix till combined. If you are using a mixer at this point you are finished with the "power tool." Gently fold in the cranberries, being careful not to burst any.

Put approximately 1/4 of a cup of batter in each muffin cup and sprinkle with sugar over top.

Bake for 25 minutes or until when toothpick inserted come out clean.

These muffins we found to be tart more than sweet, which is a welcoming change to the norm. You can of course always add 1 tablespoon of orange zest to punch up the orange flavor, or you could add some crushed walnuts.

Welcome Autumn in New England!!!


Monday, November 7, 2011

Almond Macaroons

Cookies, cookies, cookies I love cookies and when they are Italian cookies I love them even more than you know. I think I mentioned before that as a kid my first job was at an Italian bakery. When you work at a bakery you find your favorites and those are what you seem to eat all the time. You also get to be part of the "test kitchen" when new cakes, treats and cookies are being made for the first time.

Since I love Italian cookies I ate a lot of them, butter cookies that have sprinkles (or as we call them in Boston Jimmies) around the edges are my favorite, and in the bakery we call them champagne cookies. And my second favorite cookie is an almond Macaroon. They are crunchy on the outside and chewy in the inside. Sometimes they are topped with candied cherries, slivered almonds, or pine nuts, but I prefer them just plain and simple.

The other night I took a batch to a party my Italian family was having and there were none left on the plate at the end of the evening. It was so nice to hear my aunt ask where the cookies were purchased, when I told her they were home-made. These cookies are super easy and always come out great.

This is how to make them ...
Almond Macaroons
8 oz. can of almond paste
1 cup of sugar
2 large eggs, whites only, room temperature

options: red or green cherries, toasted almond slivers, toasted pine nuts

Preheat oven 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a stand mixer combine almond paste and sugar, beat until blended. add egg whites and beat until smooth.

Scoop up 1 teaspoon and roll into a ball and place on prepared baking sheet, put slivered almonds, cherries or pine nuts on.

Bake 15-17 minutes until cookies are browned.

I have made a version of these with one tablespoon of orange zest (using only the skin of the orange), to the batter to make Almond Orange Macaroons.

So Yummy and so easy to make!!!