Sunday, March 30, 2008

Whole Wheat Bread

I'm in the mood for bread. Not sourdough, not ciabatta, nothing remotely European. I want homemade whole wheat bread, sweetened with honey. Enriched with milk. Warm and topped with honey butter. Melting in my mouth.

And I'm going to get it. It's in the oven right now, so I don't have too long to wait. Except when it comes out, it has to cool and I have to go to church. But when I get home, it will be waiting for me. I will likely eat a slice before I've taken 12 steps in my house. And I bet I won't be alone.

I have a recipe I love for whole wheat bread, so I'm sharing it with you, so you can have it, too. While you're at it, make some honey butter: equal parts honey and softened butter, then refrigerated until you're ready to use it.

I wish you could smell my house right now.

Whole Wheat Bread

2 T. active dry yeast
1 T. sugar
2/3 c. lukewarm water (105˚-112˚)
3 c. hot milk
1/2 c. honey
1/3 c. vegetable oil
2 1/2 t. salt
1/4 c. gluten (yes, you can leave it out if you don't have it, but it sure helps)
7 1/2 - 9 1/2 c. whole wheat flour

Dissolve the yeast and sugar in a large bowl with the water.

Combine the milk, honey, and oil until the honey is dissolved, and cool to lukewarm.

Add the milk to the yeast, then 1 c. flour with the gluten and salt. After that's stirred in, add another 6 c. flour and begin kneading. Add more flour as necessary until the dough is a cohesive mass, but it will still stick a bit to the sides.

Let rise in a non-stick coating-sprayed bowl until double, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Divide into 2 loaf pans. Let rise until well-risen. Bake in a 350˚ oven for 45 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool at least half an hour.

Pictures to come later

Monday, March 24, 2008

Grilled Lamb

I understand lamb may not be a flavor everyone knows or loves. I get that. Still, I think it's wrong. Perhaps you've never tried it because it sounds a bit different. Maybe you've had it once, and you were expecting it to taste just like beef, so it threw you off, and now you think it's just not for me. Well, keep this in mind: you may be wrong. It could be that when you have perfectly prepared lamb, you will love it. In fact, I think you should try this recipe just to find out.

For Easter, we had a lovely dinner:

salad with tomatoes, feta, and vinaigrette
potato gratin (half recipe)
roasted asparagus
grilled leg of lamb
lemon pound cake with sugared strawberries

It was so nice that Mark promptly took over clean-up duty. That definitely means it was a success.

There are three main aspects of the lamb that help to create the wonderful, finished result: the marinade, the butterfly, and the grill.

First, the marinade. It's a yogurt-based marinade, which really tenderizes the meat, and it's filled with garlic, rosemary, and pepper to settle those flavors into the meat before cooking.

Next, the butterfly. A boneless leg of lamb usually comes tied up; remove the string and slice the larger portions of the meat in half width-wise, leaving them attached, in a way that will allow you to set the entire piece of lamb on the grill without pieces overlapping. The benefit of having your lamb butterflied is that it will cook consistently, rather than leaving you with some rare portions while others are well-done. You do want the whole thing to be cooked just right, so you don't have to fight over the best pieces.

Lastly, the grill. There's something about the smokiness of grilling lamb that pairs so well with the slightly tangy flavor of the meat. Grilling mellows out the robust aspects of the meat, in a similar way as it does a good steak. While we debated whether to oven roast or grill, it really was no difficult decision. I think most meat is better grilled, but lamb is top on my list for how much better it is grilled.

Grilled Leg of Lamb with Rosemary Salt
adapted from Gourmet magazine via

1 4-to-6 lb. leg of lamb, butterflied
1 1/4 c. plain yogurt (lowfat works fine if you've got it sitting around for smoothies)
7 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 1/2 T. coarsely chopped rosemary
1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt

for Rosemary Salt:
1 t. finely chopped rosemary
1 T. Kosher salt or flaky sea salt

Combine the yogurt, garlic, rosemary, and pepper in a large dish. Place the lamb in the dish and rub the marinade all over to coat thoroughly. Cover, refrigerate, and marinade 4-5 hours, turning once or twice.

Prepare the grill to medium high heat. Remove the lamb from the marinade and discard the marinade. Lay the meat out and run a few skewers through it to make it easier to turn and manage on the grill. Salt the lamb on both sides, then grill, turning a few times, for 20-35 minutes, depending on the thickness of your meat.

Remove it from the grill when it nears the temperature at which you like your lamb done (it will increase in temperature another few degrees during the resting period). We took ours off at 143˚, and it was just right for us - medium - pink through all of the middle with no sign of red. Most people do prefer medium rare, in which case you should remove the meat at about 135˚. Place on a platter and cover with foil. Let it rest for 5 or 10 minutes.

Combine the rosemary and salt. Slice and serve the lamb with rosemary salt. Store leftovers uncut in a container for up to 3 days (if they last).

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Tortilla Soup

Everyone should know how to make tortilla soup. (I realized this just as I was finishing the last of it off, which is why the soup bowl is nearly empty.) I mean tortilla soup that is fairly quick to throw together, has a rich broth with a good depth of flavor, and uses ingredients readily available in your kitchen. The first time I followed a recipe for tortilla soup (by Rick Bayless), it felt complicated and tedious. Yesterday, following a different recipe by the same chef, I went from barely deciding what to make to serving dinner in under an hour. That's pretty good for me. Next time, it should be a little faster...closer to 40 minutes.

"What is tortilla soup?" you may ask. Lucky for me, that answer was given several years ago. Mark and I stopped in a Boston Market (oh, back in the day, when they were all over the place) to grab some dinner. Our order was slightly delayed by a frustrated customer who had ordered the tortilla soup. Usually, it came with a small cup of chopped green onions on the side, as well as another cup or bag of tortilla strips. She had returned from her table to complain of the lack of green onions for her soup. "By definition," we distinctly recall her saying, "tortilla soup has green onions." Perhaps the confident tone of voice she used helped to solidify this knowledge in our young minds, but we have never forgotten this culinary lesson.

That is not really all there is to tortilla soup (and many would argue that green onions have nothing to do with it). The soup base has a little chile kick, a little tomato, and chicken broth. Typically, chicken is added once the soup is done along with other toppings, most notably tortilla chips.

I did a small experiment. Yesterday, in making dinner, I made my own tortilla strips chips by chopping up some tortillas, frying them in oil, salting them, and adding them to my bowl of soup. They were delicious. Today, eating the leftovers, I broke some purchased tortilla chips in pieces and placed them in my soup. I liked them even better. So now I know.

The recipe I used called for adding a melting cheese, like Monterey Jack, to the soup as well. I think my kids really liked that part, but it made the soup a bit sloppy for me, so I'd recommend one of three things: a dollop of sour cream, a bit of feta or queso fresco, or leave it out. It's also topped with avocado, which adds plenty of creaminess to the soup, so the cheese is unnecessary. Also, the recipe did not call for topping the soup with green onions, but I added them anyhow, for old time's sake. They were good.

Here's the recipe, adapted from Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless.

Tortilla Soup

olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 or 2 dried chiles: guajillo, pasilla, ancho are good (use 2 if it's a milder chile)
1-14.5 oz. can chopped tomatoes
6 c. chicken broth
1 to 1 1/2 lbs. chicken breast, chopped into small bite-size
Kosher salt
1 t. dried oregano, preferably Mexican (inexpensive; usually found in packets with other Mexican ingredients in grocery store)
1 large, firm-ripe avocado, chopped into 1/2" cubes
3-4 green onions, chopped
1/4 bunch cilantro, chopped
lime, halved
queso fresco, feta, or Monterey Jack (optional)

In a large saucepan, heat 2 T. olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, 3-4 minutes, then add the garlic and continue to cook, stirring, about 2 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium high heat. Press the dried chile(s) onto the skillet to toast. Turn and repeat. Add the chile(s) to the blender along with the tomatoes, juice and all, and blend until smooth.

Add the tomato mixture to the saucepan with the onions. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens, 5-10 minutes. Add the chicken broth, bring to a simmer, and simmer for about 20 minutes to let the flavors combine.

While that's going on, drizzle the chicken with 2-3 T. olive oil, a couple generous pinches of salt, and the oregano. When adding the oregano, crush it by placing it in your palm and rubbing your hands back and forth. This will help to bring out the flavors. With a spoon or clean hands, mix this all together to coat all the chicken with the oil. This will keep it from sticking to each other as the pieces cook.

Heat the skillet over medium high. Add the chicken (unless you have a very large pan, do this in two batches; crowding the pan will leave you with steamed, not sautéed and nicely browned, chicken). Cook for a few minutes, until the edges are white and the white is starting to creep up the top side, then either carefully turn each piece and cook a few minutes more, or stir and cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 more minutes, until it's thoroughly (but not over-) done. Remove to a serving dish.

Taste the soup for salt and add a bit as necessary.

Serve. Fill a bowl with broth, then add some chicken, avocado, cilantro, green onions, a squeeze of lime, and cheese, if you're having it. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

M&M Cake

Last week we celebrated Kate's first birthday. She's such a doll! For the celebration, we blew up 50 balloons and scattered them around the living room floor and let the kids play with them. I'd thought about a couple of other things we could do, since David had told me we needed to play games, but the three of them pretty much occupied the evening with the balloons. (Follow the leader, Twister, and going for a walk were also on the list.)

For dinner, we had some of Kate's favorites: rotisserie chicken, homemade white bread, black olives, and fresh strawberries. Actually, they were clearly all our favorites, since everyone seemed to enjoy dinner. I especially enjoyed that it was such a light meal, so I could eat as much cake as I wanted.

As for the cake, Mark and I took quite a while to decide on what to make. Chocolate had to be part of the equation, since Katie is a big fan, but the dark chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting I usually make seemed a bit too dark for a baby's first birthday. (I just realized I've never posted that recipe!) I had only one big concern with the M&M cake: that the candies would make a big mess. Alas, I eventually realized she would be a mess no matter what cake we made, and I resisted no longer.

The idea for the M&M cake wasn't originally ours. Mark's brother-in-law, Kirk has had one (I think) every year of his life, save maybe two, on his birthday. (Someone correct me if I'm wrong.) His mom always made him a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, covered in M 'n' M's, and his wife, Kathy, gladly took over the responsibility when they were married. (I think gladly...I'm pretty sure they all like the cake.)

I already had a chocolate cake recipe I loved, but I didn't want one too dark, so I began my search for a still-chocolatey-but-slightly-less-so cake recipe. I didn't want to give up how moist the other cake was, and I didn't want the chocolate to go too light. After searching for a while, I found nothing I was happy with. So I made up my own recipe. I used my dark chocolate cake recipe as a base and made several alterations, then trepidatiously threw my new cake together. Okay, I wasn't really worried. It couldn't be that bad.

Next came the frosting. I'd decided on a chocolate cream cheese frosting. This is funny because I don't like chocolate cheesecake (with the exception of the mildly acidic and absolutely delicious chocolate cheesecake made by Zingerman's, which I will some day come close to replicating and which appears to not have cream cheese inside), but I do really like cream cheese frosting with chocolate cake, so I thought it could work. Work is a good word for it, though, because the balance was all wrong at first and it took a bit of time to properly rework.

Then came the M&M's. I thought the Easter pastel variety would look pretty, so we went with those. And Mark and David helped me top the cake, as it is no small task.

And everything was perfect. Kate picked the M&M's off first, then started taking apart the cake. The rest of us had our own methods, but I think we each had two pieces that night. And another the next day. And the next. And David kept asking for more. And I suggested to Mark that we always keep some on hand, and then we can just snack on a piece whenever we want. (He thought it might not be a good idea.) And, honestly, it's maybe the best cake I've ever had. At least the most addictive. Which is funny, because it's doesn't have the most intense chocolate flavor, though it's not lacking, but the chocolate is just right. And if you ever need a perfect cake for any occasion, I recommend this one. If it's for a formal even, everyone will even forgive you throwing M&M's all over it once they bite into it. Is there anything else I need to say to convince you?

You really should try it.

M&M Cake

1 c. cocoa
3/4 c. boiling water
1 c. sour cream (light is fine, fat free maybe not?)
2 t. vanilla extract
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 c. unsalted butter, cut into 1" slices if still cold
1 c. granulated sugar
1 c. brown sugar
3 eggs

Prepare two 9" cake pans (I really like these). Spray each with nonstick coating, line the bottoms (and sides, if you're patient enough) with parchment paper, then spray again. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350˚.

In a medium bowl, whisk (or stir) together the cocoa and boiling water (it will be quite thick) until all the cocoa is dissolved. Stir in the sour cream and vanilla.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. This helps to break up any clumps in your flour and will help the baking soda and salt be more evenly distributed throughout the batter.

In a stand mixer, cream the butter until fluffy, then add the sugars and cream together on medium 1-2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing each until thoroughly combined and scraping down the sides as needed. Alternately add in the flour and chocolate mixture, beginning and ending with the flour (about three additions of flour, two of chocolate). Scrape down the sides between the additions to keep the batter consistent and mix in the last bit of flour delicately (don't turn the mixer on high and beat it for two minutes).

Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and bake for 30-40 minutes (I think mine took 40), until they're set and spring back when lightly depressed in the center. Remove to a cooling rack. After 10 minutes, remove from pans to cool to room temperature, then wrap them and freeze them. (I set them back on the used parchment paper in my cake pans to do this, since they're on something stable in the freezer that way.) Freeze them because it's so much easier to frost a frozen cake then a room temperature cake. Also, by the time you serve it, it will just be chilled, and cold chocolate cake is always better than chocolate cake at room temperature.

When you're about an hour from being ready to frost the cake, begin to prepare the frosting:

Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate*
1.5 oz. bittersweet chocolate*
1 1/2 T. cocoa
6 oz. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
3 T. cream
2-8 oz. pkgs. cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/3 c. sugar (I like using granulated sugar in cream cheese frosting. After mixing a few minutes, it dissolves, and then you don't have that unpleasant cornstarch flavor in your frosting.)

In a medium bowl, melt the butter in the microwave. Stir in the unsweetened and bittersweet chocolates and cocoa, then return to the microwave in 15 or 20 second intervals, stirring in-between, until smooth and completely melted. Chill in the fridge/freezer until cold. Don't completely freeze it, though, as it will be too cold.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip together the ganache, cream, cream cheese, and sugar on a pretty high setting until lovely and fluffy. Makes a generous amount to frost a two-layer cake.

So, frost the cake, then cover it with M&M's, then serve it. Mmmmm, mmmm, good!

*Yes, you can probably do a little substituting here. This mixture of chocolate worked well for me, but you could also try 4-5 oz. bittersweet chocolate and reduce the sugar to 3/4 cup. Taste and add up to another 1/4 cup of sugar if necessary.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Blog Surfing

Occasionally, I go blog surfing, searching mostly for other good food sites. It doesn't happen very often, because my life is pretty crazy, but it's fun to find a creative site or two once in a while that's within the realm of what I'll tackle.

I'm pretty picky, so I don't often find much, but once in a while a site piques my interest. I'll tell you what I like. I like a blog written by someone who clearly loves food but isn't all about gorging on it, you know? Everything shouldn't be about dessert, because I can come up with plenty of dangerous ones on my own. I like creative meals, ones I haven't tried before but don't look outrageously expensive to make (and I can be a bit generous once in a while). Basically, I just want good food. So I thought I'd pass on a couple of sites I've found lately. Just in case you get tired of waiting around for me to post something new. And I'll try to get them in the lineup on the left soon, too.

Kitchen Chick - Maybe I like her because she's a fan of Zingerman's in Ann Arbor (and lives in Ann Arbor), but I can't wait to try her recipe for Braised Beef with Rice Noodles. It's the kind of thing I'd love to eat but don't know how to make. And I think my family would be willing to try it (no worries about my husband).

Amuse Bouche - The recipe for Creamed Leeks with Horseradish is calling my name. Now you really think I'm crazy, don't you?

The Gracious Bowl - Everything here looks good enough to make. Well, maybe not the chestnut soup, but everything else. Doesn't it? Of course, I love soup, especially while I keep testing bread recipes. But I do have to limit my production of them, since they're not a family favorite. Maybe I just need to find the right ones?

The Fresh Loaf - An indispensable resource if you're making bread. So much experience to pull from in all of the forums.

And, of course, don't forget the links on the left.

So, what are your favorite sites? Food or otherwise? Do you make food that you read about? Just desserts, or other things? I'm dying to know!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Doodleberry Cake

My little helper, David, has been asking me for the last two weeks if we can make doodleberry cake. Like you, I've never heard of doodleberry cake. (And if that's not like you, please let me know.) He did tell me it's made with doodleberries, baking powder, and sugar. But I've been putting him off, making other things with him (like blueberry muffins, which I'll post about later this week). This morning, he asked again. It's really difficult to say no to a 3-year-old asking you to make doodleberry cake, no matter how daunting the task may seem. So I told him yes.

We had to do a bit of grocery shopping this morning anyhow, so I told him we needed to buy some doodleberries first. We were in luck, as the store I went to happened to carry doodleberries. David was so excited he nearly jumped out of his skin.

So together, we made a delicious doodleberry cake. Well, I'm telling you it's delicious, but I really am only sure that the cake batter is delicious, since it takes an hour to bake. But trust's a coffeecake with cream cheese in the batter. How can you go wrong with that?I'll post a picture of the finished cake at the top so you can see how good it is when it's done. And then you'll want to make it, too. Because I'm sure none of you have had doodleberry cake before, either. But please tell me if I'm wrong!

Doodleberry Cake

8 oz. low-fat cream cheese, room temperature
3 T. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c. + 2 T. sugar
1 1/2 eggs (you probably think I'm crazy, but I end up adding one and a half eggs quite often; just add half the white and then half the's not that difficult)
1 t. vanilla extract
2 T. milk
1 c. + 2 T. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
2 c. (1 lb., if you're doing the frozen variety) doodleberries, still frozen is fine, if that's how they came
3 T. sugar

Preheat the oven to 350˚. Spray a 9" round cake pan with cooking spray. If you want (I did), line the bottom with parchment paper and spray again. It makes for an easier time turning it out.

Beat the butter and cream cheese until creamy. Add the sugar and beat in well. Mix in the egg, vanilla extract, and milk until thoroughly combined.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, then stir into the batter (don't overstir!). Fold in berries (by hand if you've done the rest with a mixer).

Spread evenly in the cake pan and sprinkle the top with sugar. Bake 75-85 minutes (60-70 if you're using fresh berries), until golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out pretty clean. Cool to room temperature before serving.

Note: you can keep this in the pan the whole time you're eating/serving it, or you can cool 10 minutes then remove it from the pan and cool completely on the wire rack, then serve it on a platter. Either way, it's great with a dollop of ice cream. Or straight up.