Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Best Meal of the Day

Mark is funny. He goes through phases with his breakfast item-of-choice, and often uses one option day after day until he's sick to death of eating it. Then he'll want the next item on his list until he's worn that one out. He's been asking me for a few days to make him granola, which I periodically do, and he finally mentioned yesterday that he doesn't really like breakfast anymore - a sign that he definitely needed a change of pace. I got to work.

My granola recipe originally started from one I got out of a Williams-Sonoma catalog. I used to snip their recipes and try the ones that didn't involve specialty items you could only buy from them. As with all my recipes, it evolved over time until I found just what I like. I love the simple, sweet flavors in the honey and butter and the depth from the roasted almonds. You can roast the almonds by baking them in a single layer in a 350° oven for 8-10 minutes, until they're fragrant. They'll toast a bit more during the recipe, so don't overbake them.


4 c. old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
3/4 c. roughly chopped, toasted almonds
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 c. dried sweetened cranberries
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. honey
3 T. orange juice

Preheat the oven to 325°. Coat a large baking sheet with non-stick spray or a silicone mat to prevent sticking, then set aside.

Stir together the oats, salt, cinnamon, and almonds in a large bowl. In a medium microwave-safe dish, combine the remaining ingredients and melt on high for 1-2 minutes, until the butter is completely melted. Stir until the mixture is consistent, then add to the oats. Stir everything together to coat the oats and almonds evenly, then spread across the baking sheet.

Bake for 35-50 minutes, depending on your oven and how toasted you like your granola to be (45 minutes is just about right for me), stirring a couple of times during the last 15 minutes of baking. Cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks. Serve with milk or yogurt and fruit.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Mmmm, Mmmm, Cranberries

I love cranberries. I look forward to them every year, patiently anticipating them throughout the bountiful summer months, and as soon as I see them in the stores, I hold myself back so I don't buy 3 bags while it's still too warm outside for my family to appreciate them. Not that I've ever discussed it with them, but if I contain my excitement for a few weeks until the chill sets in (at least a bit), then I can make cranberries last that much longer into the winter.

Speaking of family, cranberries were not just a decoration at our family Thanksgiving table. I think lots of people grab "that can" just because it's supposed to be there, and someone at your dinner party might like to taste a little with the turkey. When I was growing up, we all ate the cranberries, my dad taking an extra quart of Grandma's homemade relish with him every time we left my Grandma's Thanksgiving dinner, and we were served both this relish and the canned jelly variety. The canned cranberries always made me giggle a little, since it was the only time of year I'd see a jelly molded into the form of a rippled can. (Actually, it was the only time of year I'd see a jelly mold at all.) And we didn't disturb the perfect form; it was plated perfectly on its side, smooth and sleek (except for bumps from the mold), and stayed that way until dinner started, unless we sliced it neatly. The homemade cranberries, on the other hand, were not given such homage. They were poked and tasted frequently before the meal was underway.

When, at last, I can restrain myself no longer and purchase that first bag of cranberries, I inevitably do the same thing with it: cranberry orange muffins. Those hit the spot. Sweet muffin, orange essence, and the bright punch of a cranberry. If you haven't made them, you should. Often. I used to use Martha Stewart's recipe from her cookbook The Martha Stewart Cookbook (made in regular muffin tins rather than hors d'oeuvres-size), but this year I tried the variation found in The Best Recipe. Both are good for different reasons: Martha's is a very delicate and traditional muffin with a lovely texture, while The Best Recipe's is very much like a cake. I think I prefer Martha's version, but I'm always willing to try something new.
After making the muffins, I'm left with half a bag of cranberries, the perfect amount to use for a new cranberry sauce recipe. For dinner Monday, we had pork tenderloin I'd browned with salt, pepper, and Dijon mustard, then sliced into medallions and seared to finish. It went perfectly with my new cranberry sauce. Here's the recipe:

Apple Cranberry Sauce

1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. water
6 oz. fresh cranberries
2 small Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced
1 small Gala apple, peeled and diced
2 slices orange peel

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Cook, stirring, over medium-high heat until most of the cranberries have popped and the apples begin to soften, 7-10 minutes. Cool to room temperature before serving, or refrigerate to cool completely.

Friday, October 06, 2006

One-Day Bread with Flavor

My interest in making my own bread (beyond the regular sandwich type) really started after we'd been away from Ann Arbor, Michigan (and Zingerman's) for nearly a year, and I was growing painfully aware other breads in the area weren't going to satisfy my need for European-style loaves. Not that I've even been to Europe, mind you, but I've tasted bread enough to know what a good loaf is supposed to be. So, my appetite was piqued, and I started researching. There are several places on the web to get started, my main resource for a time being The Artisan, a great place to grab some recipes and get started, followed by the extraordinarily educational videos of Julia Child with Nancy Silverton and Danielle Forestier. The Julia Child site was probably where I learned the most about technique. I also checked a couple of books out of the library, learning by gathering bits and pieces of information all over the place.

A few qualities were essential to me in achieving the bread I longed for: a well-defined crust, a good crumb, and a developed flavor usually unattainable in one day. For the flavor, a sourdough does the job nicely, but I prefer the 2-3 day versions of developing flavor, though it takes some practice to do it well. The crumb takes a good amount of kneading (thank you to my large KitchenAid mixer) and the right amount of rising, which should continue in the oven. For this to happen, I always place a large cast-iron skillet on the bottom rack of my oven at least 10 minutes prior to baking, then I pour 1-2 cups of water in it just after adding my loaves to the oven. This keeps the dough from forming a crust early on in baking, allowing it to rise for a longer period in the oven - you know that last little amount that you can't let happen on the counter or it falls when you move it. The humidity also helps the bread to form a good strong crust toward the end of baking.

My other trick is to always bake bread on a stone, something nice and thick, at least an inch or so, allowing it to preheat in the oven 45 minutes before baking, so it's completely to temperature. In case you're wondering, that handy round baking stone you bought at Target or Pampered Chef is way too meager for this task. It will do if you're stubborn, but if you're just cheap like me, then go to your local all-purpose home store and grab a couple of Saltillo tiles, Mexican terra cotta unglazed tiles, for under $2 each. Then, if they break because you poured water on them while they were hot, you won't get all worked up. But I always bake on parchment paper, as the tiles are not food-grade.

So, the point of this whole exposition is to announce that I have a recipe I like that only takes ONE day to make. Granted, it takes the whole day, but I can start it around 9 am and have it with dinner, which doesn't require too much planning ahead. I was greatly helped in coming up with this by Joan Nathan's The New American Cooking, a book I really enjoy but have not used enough of yet to give you a definitive review. This is my version of the bread:

French Bread
I know, exciting title.

1 t. active dry yeast
1 t. sugar
3 c. warm water
about 7 c. bread flour
2 t. Kosher salt
olive oil, for brushing

Dissolve 1/2 t. yeast and 1 t. sugar in 1 1/2 c. water, then stir in 1 cup of flour until fairly smooth. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise for 3 hours.
Stir the remaining water and yeast into the sponge, then add 5 1/2 c. flour, 1 t. salt, and all the sponge to the bowl of a standing mixer. With the dough hook in, knead the bread for 10-15 minutes, adding a bit more flour as needed to make a cohesive but fairly loose dough, slightly sticky when touched.
Coat a large bowl with cooking spray and transfer the dough to the bowl, covering tightly with wrap. Let rise for another 3 hours. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees with the stone or tiles on the center rack. Be sure to place a heavy skillet on the lower rack at least 10 minutes before baking.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into two equal parts. Shape into two baguettes on a piece of parchment paper (doesn't need to be floured) set on a peel or large movable surface (I use a large wood cutting board). Snip the loaves with a pair of scissors about 5 times across the top at an angle, then brush the tops with olive oil and sprinkle on the remaining salt. Let the dough rise until it can rise no more (should feel very light to the gentle touch), about 45 minutes to an hour.
Slide the baguettes and parchment onto the stones, then carefully and quickly pour 1-2 cups of water into the skillet. Close the oven door and keep it closed during baking to preserve the steam. Bake until well-browned, about 25 minutes. Remove to cooling racks.