I love baking homemade bread. Waiting for it to cool enough to cut when it is fresh from the oven is the hardest part, and yet, with many of my favorite recipes, toasting them on subsequent days is my number one way to enjoy them. This one especially fits under that category.
This bread is full of heavy, hearty add-ins, and that means that it ends up being a fair dense loaf. When toasted, that denseness is completely irrelevant and with a little butter - maybe some jam - this bread is a meal unto itself. You can mix your own add-ins, but I use Bob's Red Mill Muesli as my main player along with some dehydrated apples that I cut up with scissors. I especially love the dried fruit. It gives a great little flavor burst in the finished bread.
Bread making is about the only time I use weight measurements. It just makes it so easy to measure out the ingredients.
This bread is mixed in two stages. It has a pre-ferment, but it is a fairly short-lived one, only about two hours. The preferment has a fair amount of food for the yeast in it, so it gets big fast.
To the preferment, you add the water, flours, and salt and then mix either by hand or with a stand mixer. Do NOT add the add-ins until the bread is well kneaded because they will break the developing gluten strands and make it hard to develop the dough. Once the dough is stretchy and smooth, about ten minutes of mixing, you can very gently mix in the add-ins. You do not want to overmix the dough at this point, just mix enough to get them somewhat evenly distributed. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double, normally a few hours.
This dough is fairly easy to shape. Dump it out on the counter and shape into a stubby rectangle, then pick up the ends and alternatively flip the ends to stretch the dough. You want the motion of a suspension bridge while gently pulling apart the dough. This will cause it to thin and elongate. Shape into a roughly 12 x 4 inch loaf. It will be about 3/4 of an inch thick. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until almost double.
When the dough is getting close to being ready, pre-heat the oven. The dough will be puffy and it is ready when you gently poke the dough with your finger and it is slow to rebound. To help with crust development, I also have a spray bottle with water in it and give a few spritzes on the sides of the oven when I put the loaf in.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the bread has a nice golden color on it. On this loaf, color is normally enough of an indicator to tell when it is done, but other signs include a hollow sound when tapped and an internal temperature of 210F.
Again, the hardest part is to let it cool for a bit before slicing into it. That cool down time is actually a very important step in the baking of a loaf, so try to curb your enthusiasm! Look at all that good stuff in there. Talk about a bread that tastes good and keeps you going.
Yield: 1 loaf
200 g whole wheat flour
200 g lukewarm water
30 g honey
5 g instant yeast
200 g water
250 g bread flour
50 g rye flour (light or dark)
10 g salt
300 g mix ins (such as muesli mix, rolled grains, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit)
Mix the preferment and let sit 2 hours until puffed and bubbly. Mix the preferment and all other ingredients except the add-ins and knead until stretchy and smooth, about 10 minutes. Once the dough is nicely developed, gently knead the add-ins into the dough. Do not overmix at this point because the add-ins can break down the gluten structure you worked so hard to develop. Let the dough rise in a covered bowl until double.
Shape the dough into a roughly 12x4 inch loaf. It should be about 3/4" tall. Place on a parchment covered or greased sheet pan and cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel to rise until almost doubled. It will be nice and puffy when ready. Shortly before it is ready, preheat the oven to 450F.
When the loaf and the oven are ready, place the uncovered loaf in the middle of the oven, spritz the sides of the oven a few times with water from a spray bottle and then reduce the oven temperature to 400F. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the loaf is nicely golden. Let cool almost completely before enjoying.
This bread makes excellent toast, and I like to slice the bread and then freeze the slices so I can easily grab a slice and toast it on busy mornings for breakfast.
I'd always been under the impression that Bolognese was a commitment to make, that it was hard and time consuming. Turns out, it really just takes time to cook, but the actual work involved is relatively minor. A little upfront work with a knife and the rest is cake.
Bolognese is one of those dishes that I think tends to have a bit of confusion around it. Just what is it, anyway? I've heard it used as a synonym for the classic American red spaghetti sauce, but that's not what it refers to in Italy.
This is a fairly classic (and easy) version of the Italian Bolognese sauce, which involves a soffritto, meat, milk, wine, and tomatoes. A soffritto (not to be confused with the Spanish sofrito) is simply a flavor base of minced onion, celery, and carrot, cooked in olive oil. I add a little garlic here, too, because, well... garlic. Yum.
In this case, I actually like to grate the carrots so that they completely break down into the dish. I like the final texture better and the carrots simply become a part of the flavor base.
After the soffritto is softened and golden, add the meats and brown. Once it is cooked through, you can deglaze the pan with the wine (be sure to use a decent wine). Add the broth and salt. Bake in a 350F oven with the lid ajar for about one hour. The liquid will be almost all gone and the pan will have a bunch of good stuff cooked up onto the sides. That's some good flavor there!!
Remove from the oven and add the milk (be sure to use whole milk for the best results), tomatoes, and nutmeg. Stir together and then put back in the oven for another hour with no lid, stirring periodically. When it is almost as thick as you would like it, reduce oven to 300F and add the bay, a dash of ground white pepper, and salt to taste. Continue baking until it is the thickness you prefer. I like mine pretty thick because it concentrates the flavors so much. If it gets too thick, you can always add a bit of the pasta water to loosed it back up.
Serve over pasta with fresh Parmigianino Reggiano.
2 TBS olive oil
1 medium onion, minced (1 1/2 to 2 cups)
1 medium carrot, shredded (about 1 cup)
2 stalks celery, minced (about 1/2 cup)
1 large garlic clove
1/2 tsp salt
1 pound ground pork
1 pound ground beef
3/4 cup Chardonnay
1 cup beef broth
1 1/2 cup whole milk
1 (26oz) box Pomi strained tomatoes (see note below)
1/8 tsp ground bay
dash nutmeg and white pepper
salt to taste
Sauté the vegetables in the oil in a heavy Dutch oven. Preheat the oven to 350F. When vegetables are softened and slightly golden, add the meat and brown through. Deglaze the pan with the wine, add the broth, and bake with the lid ajar for one hour. The liquid should be almost all gone.
Remove from the oven, remove the lid, and add the milk and tomatoes. Stir until well mixed, scraping down the browned bits from the sides. Continue baking, uncovered, for another hour or so. Reduce the heat to 300F, add the remaining seasonings, and then return to the oven for 20 minutes or until the sauce is thick enough for your taste. Serve over freshly cooked pasta. If the sauce ends up too thick, you can stir in some of the pasta water to loosen it back up.
NOTE: You can use any tomato puree you'd like, but I have become convinced that Pomi tomatoes are the best out there. They are always sweet, they don't have the acrid tang that sometimes plagues tomatoes in a can, and I never regret adding them to a dish. You can find them in most supermarkets. Look for the red and white cartons.
Hearty Banana Muffins
I got hungry this morning and those ripe bananas sitting in the fruit bowl were talking to me. Well, actually, they were talking to my nose, but the end result is the same. I've been making a "rustic" banana muffin for years, but it had quite a bit more sugar and fat than I thought was really necessary. It was tasty, but I thought I could tone it down and still end up with a fine muffin.
I went back and forth over whether to switch to simply using oil compared to shortening. I love the ease of oil over having to cream a batter. I made the switch on a different muffin recipe I use with great success, but I thought I might need that creaming to keep the texture I wanted. I think you could probably use oil instead of shortening and the result would be pretty good, so run with it if you need to. You also have the option to use maple syrup or honey as the liquid sugar in this muffin, depending on the flavor you're going for. I love them both, but they are slightly different. Try them both and see what you think!
Briefly cream the fat and sugar together and then beat in the eggs. I'm so happy to have farm fresh eggs again. In hindsight, I had pretty good timing on that choice to raising hens last year!
Mash the bananas and then beat them into the wet ingredients. You need a cup of banana puree, which is usually two large bananas, but if you end up a bit shy, just top off with water to make the cup.
The batter will be fairly stiff and that's all right!
Sprinkling the tops with a bit of wheat bran and turbinado sugar really makes them special. Turbinado sugar is a coarse crystal, less refined sugar. It has a bit of a molasses edge and the crunch it gives to the top of the muffin is a totally not optional option in my mind.
I use a size 16 disher to make loading the muffin cups easy (that's the blue handled one, if your dishers are color coded). Sprinkle the tops and bake in a preheated 375F oven for about twenty minutes. When the tops start to brown and the muffins are no longer jiggly, they should be ready.
Look how much they rose in the oven! These muffins have a pretty tight crumb structure, but they are soft and delicious. Let cool slightly before eating so that the paper will come off easily.
Hearty Banana Muffins
Yield: 12 muffins
1/3 c vegetable shortening
1/3 c maple syrup or honey
1/4 c sugar
2 large eggs
1 c mashed bananas
1 c all-purpose flour
1 c whole wheat flour
1 TBS baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 c wheat bran
1/2 c chopped walnuts (optional)
sprinkle of turbinado sugar and wheat bran for the tops
Preheat the oven to 375F. Briefly cream the shortening and sugar together. Add the eggs and beat. Mash the bananas and then add to the creamed mixture. If you're bananas don't quite make the amount required, simply top off with a bit of water to make the cup and a half. Beat until well mixed.
In a separate bowl, mix the remaining ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir gently until well incorporated. Use a #16 (blue) disher to fill muffin cups about 3/4 full. Sprinkle muffins tops with a little wheat bran and then turbinado sugar. Bake until beginning to brown on the tops and a tester comes out clean, about 18-20 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving. Muffins freeze very well. Use a microwave to thaw if frozen: 25 seconds for one and 40 seconds for two in most microwaves.
Cream of Asparagus Soup
'Tis the season! Asparagus will always hold a special place in my heart as far as vegetables go. I love that it is usually one of - if not the first - home grown, fresh produce I get to enjoy from my yard every year. The excitement I experience when I notice the first sign of them punching through is indescribable!
Of course, you have to still wait a bit between seeing them first pop through and having your first harvest... and that waiting can be hard! My first harvest, which is usually less than a pound, is always roasted because that's my favorite way to enjoy asparagus, but, as the season wears on, I find myself becoming a bit overwhelmed by how much of the stuff is getting harvested on a daily basis.
That's when I turn to asparagus soup. Mainly because by that point, I'm starting to get a bit weary of roasted asparagus and partly because it's, in my opinion, the best way to preserve the harvest. I make the soup and freeze it to enjoy in the middle of winter and it tastes just as fresh and perfect in December as it does when I make it!
This recipe is great because it is easy to scale depending on how much asparagus you have. Make a big pot, enjoy a nice dinner, and freeze the rest in containers or bags (I have a vacuum sealer, so that's how I do it).
Cream of Asparagus Soup
Yield: 2 servings, double/triple, etc. as needed
1 TBS butter
1 small shallot, diced
1/4 cup celery ribs, diced
2 cups chopped asparagus spears, woody ends removed
2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup cream (heavy or light, depending on your mood)
salt & pepper to taste
Sauté the shallot and celery in the butter over medium-high heat. Reduce heat as needed to prevent too much browning. When the shallot and celery are beginning to soften, add the asparagus. Sauté for another 3-4 minutes.
Add the broth and bring the soup to a simmer. Cook until the vegetables are very tender, about ten minutes. Remove the soup from the heat and let cool slightly before pureeing in a food processor or blender. Return the soup to the pot and place back over the heat. Add the cream and salt and pepper. Heat, stirring, until it just reaches a simmer. Remove from the heat and serve.