No Knead to worry

                         No Knead Bread A La Lisa

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My friend Lisa likes to cook as much as me, maybe even MORE! One day as we sipped coffee at her house, we started talking bread! Her mom (I think) had adjusted the NYT recipe. I scribbled it in my handy notebook for future baking. I had made the NYT No Knead bread plenty of times, but it was never enough for my family.  I always had to double the recipe. Lisa’s recipe makes a bigger bread. Bigger is better, right? I also took some liberties. I am lazy. Instead of folding it on a lovely linen tea towel, I just do it in the same bowl that the bread had risen in. Lazy, but effective. The biggest problem with this recipe is it takes too long. You need to give yourself a window of about 18 hours, give or take. Once you mix the dough, you let it sit for about 12 + hours. The yeast works it magic at this point. It’s an eternity when you want to eat bread, but it’s worth the wait. After this, you need to let it rise for another two hours. Yup. Again worth the wait.

So, before you attempt this recipe, read it through. You have to have a lidded pot, big enough (about 5 quarts) that can withstand a very hot oven. I use my Le Creuset Dutch Oven. Find it here.http://www.williams-sonoma.com/products/le-creuset-signature-round-dutch-oven_0/  It works perfectly. I also use parchment paper. Another wonderful cheat technique. Your bread will still brown, but won’t burn and it comes right out of the pan.

So promise yourself to make this bread. It’s worth the wait. Some night make a delicious soup for dinner and serve this bread. You WILL thank me!

4 ½ cups of flour (King Arthur “regular” flour is what I use)

2 ½ tsp. salt (kosher)

1 tsp. granulated yeast (instant)

¼ cup honey

water

Cornmeal (optional)

Those are all the ingredients.  It’s easy and affordable to make this bread. You just have to be patient.

In a 2 cup liquid measuring cup, pour in a ¼ cup of honey.  You are now going to add water to the honey. Fill up to the brim of the measuring cup, with warm water. Do not use hot water. It will kill the live yeast. If you’re not sure and don’t have a thermometer, pour warm tap water into the honey and let it sit for 15 minutes. If you have a thermometer, make sure the water is about 110 degrees. It can be less, but NOT more. Stir the honey and water. You want to melt the honey.

In a big bowl, mix together the flour, salt, and yeast. Add in the honey/water mixture. You will need a spatula or wooden spoon to mix it. It will be very sticky. Just mix until the flour is blended through. Then STOP! Put plastic wrap over the bowl and let it sit on the counter for about 12-16 hours. This will give the yeast time to work it’s magic. The dough will get bubbly. This is good. The bubblier the better. Now, just walk away from it.

After the 12-16 rising, the dough will have risen in your bowl and should have many bubbles. Now comes the fun part. Put about ½ cup of extra flour in a bowl. You will be dipping your hands in it and spreading some on the dough. With your fingers today and dipped in flour, scoop the dough away from the sides of the bowl with one hand. Sprinkle just a little flour on the dough. Fold the dough over itself, turning the bowl. You want to sprinkle flour on your hand and a little as you fold the dough over into the middle of the bowl. Just go around the bowl once. Put the plastic wrap back on and let the dough rest for two hours. Set your timer. You will need to pre-heat the pan and lid for about a ½ before you put the dough in it. So, set your timer for 1.5 hours. When it goes off, heat the oven at 425 degrees and put in the empty pan with the lid on. Make sure your pan and lid can go in the oven. Some handles and nobs cannot handle this high of heat. Check with your manufacturer. You don’t have to use Le Creuset. Lodge makes very reasonably priced cast iron products that you can use. http://www.amazon.com/Lodge-L8DOL3-Pre-Seasoned-Handles-5-Quart/dp/B00063RWYI/ref=sr_1_3?s=kitchen&ie=UTF8&qid=1390409854&sr=1-3

I use pre-cut parchment paper from King Arthur. http://www.kingarthurflour.com/shop/items/baking-parchment-paper-half-sheet I love it. I use it for everything! After the pan/lid have been in the oven for a ½ hour, take them out and put on your stovetop. Remember….they are VERY HOT! Use oven mitts! Take the lid off and put on another burner. I take the parchment and carefully push it down into the VERY HOT pan. Just have a dent in the parchment, so you can pour the dough into it. Flour your fingertips, and scoop the dough into the VERY HOT pan, trying to get it into the center of the pan. Don’t worry if it’s not perfectly centered. It’s bread, it will be fine! Put on your oven mits, and shake the pan, so the dough settles evenly. Sprinkle some cornmeal on top of the dough. This will help it brown and give it some crunch. Put the VERY HOT lid back on and put it back into the oven. Relax. The hard work is done. Let your bread bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, take the VERY HOT lid off and put the dough back into the oven for about 15 minutes. Cook it until it’s nicely browned. You may want another 5 minutes if you like it darker. Take the VERY HOT pan out of the oven and place on your stove. See that beautiful bread? You made it! All by yourself! You are awesome! Pull the parchment paper by opposite corners and put the bread on a cooling rack. You’re done! Let it cool, if you can. There is nothing better than fresh bread with sweet butter and jam. Store it a plastic bag or something else airtight after it cools. This bread never lasts more than a day in my house!

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Sour Cream Coffee Cake

                                                         

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It’s snowing. It’s snowing. My school was kind enough to announce our closing a day early. This, of course, translates into one thing to me….TIME TO BAKE! I stopped at the grocery store on the way home to prepare for the storm. I changed my menu based on the possibility of losing power. This gal’s always thinking. So last night I used the oven, today it will be all stove-top cooking.

My mother’s sour cream coffee cake is the best. I have made it hundreds of times. It’s light and delicious. The house smells like cinnamon and love while it’s baking. Yes, of course love has a smell…in my world! I get happy just thinking about making this coffee cake. I copied the recipe after I got married. It’s faded and stained which is a compliment for any recipe. I have used a variety of pans to bake this cake. My favorite pan is one I found in a shop at the Lemon Tree Village Shops in Brewster, MA. It’s a Nordic Ware square pan, with a lid. It’s perfect. You can bake and take without foil! YAY!

You don’t have to wait for a snow day or even the cold to bake this coffee cake. Make some time to bake this for someone you love, because you won’t want to share it with anyone else.

½ cup of softened butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cups flour

¼ tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1 cup sour cream

Topping

¼ cup sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ cup of chopped walnuts (optional)

Grease an 8 or 9 inch baking pan and preheat oven at 350 degrees.

Most “real” bakers frown on this method to soften butter, but I pop my butter into the microwave just until it softens. I cut it into pieces and put it on a microwave safe plate  and heat it for about 15 seconds. If you end up softening it too much (melting) don’t worry. Let it cool for about 15 minutes. Don’t fret, it’s coffee cake people! Let your oven warm-up and gather your other ingredients while it cools.

With a hand mixer or stand one, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and mix well. Add the vanilla extract until blended. I unceremoniously dump the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in all together. I don’t sift. I mix this just a little bit until it starts to blend and then I add the sour cream. This is going to be a thick batter. But you don’t want it so thick you cannot spread it. I have found that some sour cream brands are very thick, other’s are watery. If the brand you are using is very thick, you may add another tablespoon to the bowl. If it’s watery, still the container of sour cream before you put it in the bowl. It’ll all be fine, I promise!  Mix the batter just until it’s all blended.

The next part of this may seem tricky. It’s not. Just remember it’s a coffee cake, not a painting. No matter how it looks, it will taste delicious. In your greased pan, pour ½ of the batter. Eyeball it. Then sprinkle about ¾ of the cinnamon sugar on top and walnuts if you are using them. I don’t like nuts in my baked goods, usually. I have some cinnamon sugar premade in a container in case I have a cinnamon toast emergency. So I don’t think I use the exact amount in the recipe. If you want to use more cinnamon sugar, do it in the middle. It’s okay, no one said cake was nutritious. It’s coffee cake people! Pour the other half of the batter in the pan on top. Here’s my trick, I use a spatula. I scoop it from the bowl, and then lay it on top of the rest of the mixture. Try to cover most of the pan. Once all the batter is on top, spread it evenly. It’s okay if it pulls up a little and the cinnamon sugar shows. It will still taste wonderful. Sprinkle the rest of the cinnamon on top.

In your 350 degree preheated oven, bake for about 45 minutes. Oh.the.smell.

Let this cake cool for about a ½ hour, at least. It is wonderful while it’s still warm!

You can use this recipe for cupcakes too. Follow the same method, but in a cupcake pan. It makes about 16 cupcakes. The cooking time will be reduced to about 25 minutes. Use a toothpick to check. It should come out clean.

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Blueberry Boy-Bait Cake

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    Blueberry Boy-Bait Cake

 

This recipe won the 1954 Pillsbury Baking Contest. As the title implies, this cake can attract members of the opposite sex. Hey, it’s CAKE with BLUEBERRIES….who wouldn’t love it? There are several versions of this recipes that use brown sugar and don’t separate the eggs. I haven’t tried those recipes. The original works great for me. I use frozen blueberries in the winter months and honestly, I prefer them to fresh blueberries. Don’t defrost the frozen blueberries or you will get purple batter. No.thank.you. I did tweak this recipe a little because I love the combination of cinnamon and blueberries.

 

2 cups of flour

1 ½ cups of sugar

10 tbsp. COLD butter

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

2 eggs, separated

1 cup milk

2 cups blueberries: fresh or frozen

1 tsp. cinnamon (optional)

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13 x 9 pan. Mix together the flour, sugar and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl. Cut the butter into pieces and work into the flour mixture. You can use your fingertips, pastry blender or a food processor. You want the flour to have a coarse texture, with some pea-size pieces of butter. Reserve a ½ cup of this mixture for the topping.

If you only have one set of beaters, I would suggest beating the egg whites now. (see recipe). Make sure you have all your ingredients, and oven ready before you beat the egg whites. You don’t want them to sit for any length of time, as they will deflate. If you have two beaters, you can follow the recipe and switch out the beaters.

Add the baking powder, salt, egg yolks (reserve the whites in another bowl) and the milk to the flour mixture in the bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed for about 3 minutes.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they have 2-inch peaks. Fold the batter and egg whites together, gently. Pour batter into prepared pan and spread evenly. Sprinkle blueberries over batter. Sprinkle the reserved mixture on top.

Bake 40 to 50 minutes. Let cool for 30 minutes

Lentil a little hand here

 Spiced Vegetable and Lentil Stew

 

This recipe is slightly adapted from a recipe that was slightly adapted from a Weight Watchers recipe. Did you follow that? I had not eaten lentils in years and wanted to try them again. One of the best things about lentils is they do not need to be soaked or partially cooked before you use them. Some legume recipes can take hours to cook, but this stew is relatively quick. It makes a vat of stew. You can freeze any leftovers. I like to serve this with some rice. I make a pot of rice and use it throughout the week. I love to bring this to work. Warm, delicious, filling and low calorie! If you aren’t sure, or don’t have all these spices, don’t worry. You can eliminate, or reduce, what ever you like. The stew will still be tasty and healthy. I am not a lover of strong spices, and I find this stew flavorful but not too overpowering. I also like to cook a Parmesan rind in the soup for extra flavor. You don’t have to do that.  Another benefit is, this soup is very healthy. Lentils are a very nutritious.

 

2 cups of lentils (dry) Red lentils, French lentils…any kind can be used

10 ounces of fresh baby spinach, rough chopped or a package of thawed frozen spinach

1 15-oz. can of diced tomatoes – I prefer the petite diced

1 onion, chopped

1 carrot, peeled and diced

1 tbsp. minced garlic

1 tbsp. fresh ginger – I often substitute 1 tsp. of ground ginger

4 cups of chicken stock (store bought is perfect for this and you can use vegetable broth also)

1 tbsp. curry powder

1 tsp. mustard seeds

½ tsp. ground coriander

½ tsp. ground cumin

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

2 tsp. sugar

Kosher salt

 

Combine the onion and carrot in a hot soup pan with a light coating of olive oil.  I like to sprinkle a little kosher salt on them to help the process. Sauté them until they are just soft, not brown.  If your pan gets too hot, take it off the burner and add a splash of olive oil to cool it down. Lower the heat and put the pan back on the burner. Add in the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the stock and spices, sugar and a pinch of salt. You can add more salt later. It’s best to season as you cook, instead of just at the end.  Put the cover on the pan and simmer (low heat) for about an hour until the lentils are soft. Your kitchen will smell wonderful.  If you have any leftover cooked vegetables, you can include them. Don’t forget to the let the stew cool before you place it in the fridge.

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Blueberry Muffins

Blueberry Muffins

 

I love blueberry muffins. Sweet and delicious! When we were kids, we used to hike a mountain with my parents and pick wild blueberries. With a Skippy peanut butter jar of soapy water and some cheese sandwiches, we spent the day picking blueberries. My parents believed that if you didn’t pick ‘em, you didn’t eat ‘em. I went without blueberries, often. Hiking and picking blueberries by the gallon and cleaning them at night to freeze, was not this teenager’s idea of fun. When I did help pick, I licked my plate clean of my mother’s blueberry pie. I wooed my then boyfriend (now hubby) with blueberry muffins delivered to his radio station in the early morning hours. When I got married and started doing our grocery shopping I saw blueberries in the grocery store. I promptly called my mother when I got home and told her they sold blueberries in the store now!! She laughed. Live and learn. I think this recipe works best with frozen blueberries. For some reason, they will really rise higher when the blueberries are frozen. Fresh blueberries are delicious in this recipe too, just a little smaller.

 

½ cup of softened butter

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs

2 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cups flour

½ cup milk

2 cups frozen blueberries

½ tsp. cinnamon (optional)

sugar for sprinkling

 

Heat your oven to 375 degrees. Muffins need that high heat to have those muffins tops raise high. Yum.

 

Cream together the sugar and butter. Add the vanilla extract and blend thoroughly. Add eggs and beat well. Against all baking theories, I dump all the flour at once into the butter mixture and then pour in the milk. Hey, they’re muffins! Mix until blended. I like to use frozen blueberries (go figure). I don’t even defrost them as they make the batter blue. Not in my house! Scoop out batter into a prepared muffin pan. I like to use paper baking cups. I’m all about easy clean up. I like a crunchy muffin top. To achieve this I sprinkle the muffins with sparkling sugar before I bake them. You can use regular granulated sugar too.

Bake for about 25 minutes checking after 15 minutes.

This recipe makes 12 muffins. They freeze well, IF you have any leftover.

Winter Vegetable Soup

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Winter Vegetable Soup

My friend Lisa gave me this recipe last winter. I made it once and was discouraged since all I had was an old blender. It worked well, but it was late in the day and I was losing patience. The soup tasted wonderful, but it wasn’t the experience I had hoped for. I just recently bought an immersion blender. It made such a difference. Don’t get me wrong, the blender worked. I had just been too tired. It’s times like this that make me wonder what did we ever do before we had these contraptions. I guess with this soup, you would have withheld most of the liquids until the potatoes were cooked and mashed them. It could work! I am a novice with immersion blenders and I went a little too crazy with it. Next time I will follow her directions to the word and puree half the soup and then add the rest of the spinach. Ooops!

I hope you try this soup. On a cold and snowy night, a bowl of soup and a hunk of bread will fix what ails you!

4 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces (or more if you love bacon)

4 tbsp. (1/2 stick) butter

2 cups finely diced leeks (white part and 1 inch of green)

1 ½ cups finely diced onion

1 cup finely diced celery

1 ½ tsp. dried tarragon

½ tsp. dried thyme

salt and pepper to taste

5 cups of chicken stock or canned broth

2 ½ cup finely diced potatoes (about 4 potatoes)

1 lb. fresh baby spinach

½ cup heavy or whipping cream

This potato/leek soup is easy. But I have to stress that you need to do your prep work before you start. You should cut you leeks, onions and celery ahead of time. I peel and dice the potatoes while the other vegetables sauté.  Trust me. It makes cooking more enjoyable if you are prepared. As the French stay, “mise en place”….everything in place.

If you haven’t cooked with leeks, you should know they can be very sandy. I usually cut them, and then let them soak in cold water. The sand will drop to the bottom of the bowl. You just scoop out the cut leeks when you need them. You can drain them in a colander or on paper towels. Simple. Effective.

In a large pot (at least 4 ½ quarts), cook the bacon over a low heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisping. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon. Drain the bacon on a paper towel. I used it as a topping for the soup. It really makes the soup magnificent.

Add butter to the pot and sauté the leeks, onions and celery. You wanted them wilted, not brown. Cook them on a low heat and stir them. You can always take the pan off the heat for a minute if they are cooking too quickly. Add the tarragon, thyme, salt and pepper. Stir well. Keep in mind you will season it again with salt and pepper before serving.

Add the stock and potatoes. Cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender, but not mushy. This will take about 15-20 minutes. I used only 4 cups of stock. I like my soups thicker. That’s my preference.

Add half the spinach. Simmer for about one minute.

Remove the soup from the heat. Put half of the soup in either a blender or food processor. If you are using an immersion blender, put the soup in a saucepan or deep bowl. Puree this. If you are using a blender, be careful. Let the soup cool for a few minutes. Blenders are temperamental about hot liquids. Pour the pureed soup into the original pot and heat on a low heat. Add the remaining spinach and the cream. Heat through, stirring well, but do not boil. Adjust the seasoning, top with the bacon bits, and serve.

For those of you worried about the cream, don’t! I mistakenly left it out last night and the world did not end. It would have added some color and smoothness, but the soup was still delicious!