For Everyday Life

I’ll confess – I meant to leave you with a sweet treat before heading out for vacation, I swear it. Because I knew that when I got back, I’d be cutting back on the sweets for a while. The truth is, I totally forgot to, and there’s really no excuse other than that. I opened up this here site after another week of being away from it and saw that I’d started this post, meaning I’d added the pictures and the recipe according to my usual system of doing things, but that was it.

Funny how things like that happen, eh?

Anywho, we’re back from the weirdest vacation I think I’ll ever take (in a totally good way) and I’ll tell you all about it once I get the chance to clean up the pics and sit here for a while. But the summary is this: we had a bunch of quick, fun trips from the Midwest through the Deep South, and I’m not kidding when I say we ate our way through each and every stop. You won’t be surprised to hear that we even found a few wineries along the way.

But we’ll get to the rest later – promise.

Today, I wanted to finally share these gingersnaps, since I didn’t manage to pull through last month. More ginger cookies? Why, yes. Sure, we have graham crackers and triple ginger cookies already, but can you have too much ginger? I think not. Plus, they’re all just a little bit different. Graham crackers? Well, silly, those are for s’mores (there’s a gluten-free version, too!). Triple ginger cookies? Those are for eating over the Holidays with a mug of spiced (or spiked) cider at the fireplace. Gingersnaps? These are for everyday life.

These aren’t nearly as crisp as the ones in the goldenrod bag that you buy from the snack aisle in the grocery store. These are crunchy on the outside, chewy in the middle. They remind me of a cool, fall Chicago morning – those mornings you wake up to and just know they’ll be perfect. They’re meant to be eaten on a day when the leaves are falling, crisp and brilliantly colored – brick, burnt orange, and pumpkin-tinged. For days when the sun glistens through the trees and reflects brightly off the windows, but the breeze around the corner provides that perfect counter-attack against the heat that is slowly waning for the year. Man, I miss those mornings some kinda bad.

If you’re like me, and perhaps those sure-fire signs of Fall aren’t quite lining up for you the way you’d like, that’s fine too. Summer in October suits me just as well, truth be told. Either way, gingersnaps are a welcome addition to any day – warm, breezy, and fall-ish or sunny, clear, and reminiscent of July.

Gingersnaps
from David Lebovitz’s Ready For Dessert; makes 60

time commitment: 2 hours (includes 1 hour for the dough to chill)

printable version

ingredients
3 c all purpose flour
2 1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
2 1/2 t g cinnamon
2 t g ginger
1 1/2 t fresh g pepper
1/2 t g cloves
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
1 1/4 c sugar
1/4 molasses
1 t vanilla extract
2 eggs, room temp
turbinado or regular granulated sugar, for coating the cookies

instructions
in a medium bowl, combine flour through ground cloves and whisk until mixed well.

in a stand mixer, or in a large bowl using an electric mixer, combine butter and sugar, mixing on medium until smooth. mix in molasses and vanilla, then add eggs one at a time, until thoroughly incorporated. add flour mixture and mix until completed combined.

divide the dough into four pieces. lightly flour a surface and roll each piece into an ~8″ log, then roll up in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 1 hour (alternatively you can freeze for less time).

preheat oven to 350 F. pour coating sugar into a small bowl. working with one log at a time, slice into 1/2″ cookies, and press one side of each cookie into the sugar, then place the other side down on a parchment or silpat-lined baking sheet. bake for ~10 minutes. if using two sheets, rotate sheets halfway through to even cooking of each sheet. remove, let cool for a few minutes, and transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

ps – you can store the dough in the fridge or freezer if you want to bake sections off at a time. or you can do it all at once – whatevs. 

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More than Manwich

Having a food blog ultimately means that you care what your food looks like. You pretty things up, attempting to only post recipes of the dishes that are presentable, neat, and well-primped.

But seriously, some things just taste better when they’re messy.

A taco, for instance, should always require a napkin, or your pants if you’re in a pickle. An ice cream cone full of decadent, rich dulce de leche ice cream with fudge on top should always leak through the bottom of the cone, through the paper liner, and down your hand as you eat it, licking furiously. A hot dog should always be stuffed so full that you can barely get your mouth around the whole thing, but when you do, mustard and/or ketchup (depending on where you’re from, I suppose) should almost always squirt from the other end onto the picnic table you’re eating at.

Sloppy Joes are the epitome of this very subject. By definition alone, they are an utter mess. The sandwich is packed, overloaded truthfully, and when the top and bottom halves are pressed together in an effort to take a hefty bite of both bun and meat, the mixture oozes from between the bread in an effort to escape its fate. But fear not – this is when tortilla chips, if you have them (fingers if you don’t), come in handy.

I am a closet fan (no longer) of the Sloppy Joe. I’ll tell you a secret: I used to buy cans of Manwich on the regular, probably as recently as 3 years ago, and I enjoyed every single bite of those runny, goopy, lovely sa’miches. I must have made them a lot, because eventually Chris decided to let me know that they “weren’t his favorite”, which is his nice way of saying he loathes them. Of course I’m stubborn, so I tried a couple more times, but eventually we had to put them to rest, and the Manwich cans were no longer a part of our monthly repertoire.

But now I’ve found the replacement, a sandwich to fill the void, the gap between those days of tofu and pasta. Meaty, hearty, unpretty, and totally messy – this is the solution to a problem I’d pressed out of my mind for quite some time. The best part? I can take a bite, beef splurting out between my fingers, and all the while I can rest assured that it won’t be the last time. The bonus? the ingredients are fresh, sans can, but still just as messy and delicious as I remember, and even more so.

Beef & Mushroom Sloppy Joes
adapted from Cooking Light, June 2011; serves 4-6

time commitment: 30 minutes

printable version

ingredients
1 T olive oil
1 lb ground beef
1 lb cremini mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 c onion, medium dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 c tomato paste (2 small cans)
1 t dried oregano
2 T red wine vinegar
3 T Worcestershire sauce
2 T molasses
1/4 t salt
3/4 t freshly ground black pepper
1 t hot sauce (Franks)
4-6 whole wheat hamburger buns, toasted

instructions
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add beef; cook for 4 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble.

While beef cooks, place mushrooms in a food processor; pulse 10 times or until finely chopped. Add mushrooms, onion, and garlic to pan; cook for 3 minutes or until onion is tender. Add tomato paste and next 5 ingredients (through salt) to pan; cook 5 minutes or until mushrooms are tender and liquid evaporates. Stir in pepper and hot sauce. Spoon about 1 cup beef mixture on bottom half of each bun; top with top halves of buns.

Guinness is Good for You

Christmas has come and gone, as has the 4-day weekend that went along with it. The snow seemed to follow us down South this year, which is an extremely rare occasion in December. I didn’t like that part, but the rest of the trip, for the most part, was a blast.

Plus, the majority of the gifts I took home were cookbooks, or cooking paraphernalia of some sort. A girl like me can’t complain about that.

One of the highlights of said cookbooks was David Lebovitz’s newest brainchild, Ready for Dessert (thanks, Les!). I haven’t had the chance to read the book from cover to cover (yes, I do read cookbooks… shut it), but I most certainly hunkered down for a few moments after ripping the gift open to peruse long enough to find a seemingly sure-fire recipe to test out over the holiday.

It should be no surprise that I stopped, dead in my tracks, at a recipe with these two words: ginger and Guinness.

I’ve really developed quite an affinity for dark beers lately, and Guinness is an obvious go-to in that category – they are chocolatey, nutty, and perfect for this weather. I’m sure most any porter or stout would work here, and had I been in an area loaded with a plethora of microbrew choices, I probably would have gone for a Breckenridge Vanilla Porter or a Left Hand Milk Stout (gotta support the southpaws, since I’m one of ’em!), but really, you can’t go wrong with Guinness. Plus, it’s good for you, remember?!

Although I had no doubt (ok, a little, since the batter appeared ‘watery’), these cupcakes did not disappoint. They are light and fluffy, each bite into the ‘cake creating a small indention, but then a quick spring back – like the dough for bread when first kneading. The ginger and Guinness are definitely palpable, but so is the molasses, and we all know how much I love that. Naked, they are certainly sweet, almost cloyingly so, but the frosting, kicked up with a few squirts of lime, adds enough zip to provide perfect balance. They smell fresh, bursting with citrus and all things good in the world.

You could make them now, today, and finish up 2010 with a bang. Or you can hold out for a couple of days, and start the New Year off right – with more ginger, more molasses, and even better – more Guinness. That’s a resolution I can easily stick with, and you should too.

Guinness-Gingerbread Cupcakes w/ Lime Frosting
Adapted, barely, from David Lebovitz’s Ready for Dessert; makes 12

time commitment: 1 hour, plus cooling

printable version

ingredients
cupcakes
1/2 c Guinness
1/2 c molasses
1/2 c vegetable oil
1/4 t baking soda
3/4 c packed light brown sugar
1 1/3 c ap flour
1 1/4 t baking powder
2 t g ginger
1 t g cinnamon
1/8 t g nutmeg
1/2 t salt
2 large eggs, room temp
1/2 c finely minced candied ginger, plus garnish

frosting
4 T unsalted butter, room temp
1 1/2 c powdered sugar
3 T lime juice
1 T whole milk

instructions
preheat oven to 350 F. line 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake liners.

in a large saucepan, bring Guinness, molasses, and oil to boil over med-hi. remove from heat and whisk in baking soda until dissolved. stir in brown sugar and let cool.

in a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, spices, and salt.

whisk eggs into cooled brown sugar / Guinness mixture, then whisk in flour mixture until incorporated, being careful not to overmix. stir in minced ginger.

divide batter among cupcake liners and bake 22-24 minutes. cool completely on a wire rack.

meanwhile, make the frosting. beat butter on high speed until smooth and with speed on low, add in 1/2 of the powdered sugar. scrape down sides, add the lime juice and the remaining powdered sugar, and beat again, finishing by adding the milk. beat until fluffy, and add more lime juice if desired.

frost cooled cupcakes with lime frosting and garnish with ginger, if desired.

I Heard You Wanted S’more Marshmallows?

I will not apologize for what you see here, nor the recipe that follows. In fact, my post from Friday foreshadowed an occurence such as this (speaking of Friday, don’t forget to vote for this Friday’s post over to your right) and therefore, if you did your reading, you should not be too terribly surprised.

What I will say, instead, is that, if you ever have the desire to splurge, or perhaps to impress a large group of hungry chocoholics, this is the post for you. For today, don’t worry yourself with sugar content, calories, or fear of  trying a daunting recipe and failing miserably. Take a deep breath, and make the jump.

Because I promise you, I promise you, it’s well worth it. Just ask any of the 7 of us who downed two batches of these babies this past weekend. In a matter of minutes, in between Rock Band sets, many delicious s’mores were consumed – without guilt, instead with unadulterated happiness.

For starters, have you made the marshmallows yet? Or did you take a look at them, perhaps print the recipe(s), and still just haven’t found the time to pull that stand mixer out? Well, life is all about second chances. I’m giving you one now.

And while you’re making the marshmallows, you can also throw together a batch of graham crackers (we even have a gluten-free version here, so that’s not an excuse either!). I’m serious. The ingredients come together without a hitch in your food processor, and the taste isn’t even comparable to the over-processed Nabisco product. The best part about them? The fact that you made them, and you know exactly what you put into them.

Now, take those tasty marshmallows, if you can muster up the strength to not eat them right out of the pan, and sandwich them between your beautiful homemade graham crackers. Slide a chunk of chocolate in there and let your oven melt the chocolate and the marshmallow into a gooey, stringy, warm heavenly mess that, within an instant of eating said mess, will remind you of all things good in the world.

Like all those times when your gramma put s’mores into the toaster oven for you while you were stuck at her house all summer long watching The Price is Right, and even though she had a pool, you couldn’t go swimming in it unless your mom was there. But having s’mores was what made that ok, because you could stand on that little stool in the green-tiled kitchen and watch those quiet metal rods in the toaster turn into orange fire, orange fire that magically made the marshmallow and chocolate (or even peanut butter) pieces turn into hot liquid before your very eyes. Eating those, even though she never seemed to make quite enough, was enough to make gramma’s house fun. How I wish I could go there today – with or without the s’mores – but instead I treasure that memory, which is more than enough to make me smile.

Maybe your gramma didn’t make s’mores for you? Evenso, I’d be willing to bet that the sheer thought of s’mores takes you to a better place. A place where life is easier, a place where happiness is abounding, or a place where your biggest care in the world was deciding who would get the last one.

Tell me, where is that place for you?

Homemade Mint S’mores
makes ~1 dozen ooey, gooey, samiches

printable version, with gluten-free graham crackers
printable version, with regular graham crackers

ingredients
1 batch of homemade graham crackers (recipes below)
1 batch of homemade mint marshmallows (recipe below)
2 or 3 Hershey’s milk chocolate candy bars

instructions
preheat oven to 350 F. line a baking sheet with tin foil or parchment paper. place half of graham crackers on sheet. put a marshmallow on each cracker. put chocolate piece (you choose the size) on top of marshmallow. place remaining graham crackers atop.

bake in oven for ~10 minutes, or until chocolate melts and marshmallow begins oozing all over the place. remove and let cool for a couple of minutes and pretty them up before serving (will have fallen over in oven, so you will have to put them back together somewhat).

eat 1. eat another. keep eating until they are all gone.

Gluten-Free Graham Crackers
adapted from Shauna, makes 1-2 dozen crackers

if you have questions about storing these, I’d suggest you go to the source and click on Shauna’s link above. and although I think this recipe turned out just fine, if you have the ingredients listed on her site, I’d recommend following hers to the letter – she’s the expert!

printable version (crackers only)

ingredients
2.5 oz sorghum flour
2.5 oz brown rice flour
2.5 oz tapioca flour
2.5 oz all purpose gluten-free flour (or sweet rice, as Shauna uses, if you have it)
1 t cinnamon
1 t baking powder
3/4 t xanthan gum
1/2 t salt
7 T unsalted butter, chilled
1/4 c honey
3 to 6 T cold water
cinnamon sugar, optional

special equipment: a food processor, a rolling pin and if you want jagged edges, a fluted pastry cutter

instructions
Measure out the sorghum, brown rice, tapioca, and all purpose flours and put into food processor. Mix together. Add the cinnamon, baking powder, xanthan gum, and salt. Mix until everything is well combined.

Cut the butter into small pieces. Add to the flours in the food processor. Pulse until the butter is incorporated into the flours. The mixture should have a coarse texture.

Stir together the honey and 3 T of the water. With the food processor running, pour in the honeyed water. Let the food processor run for a few minutes, allowing the dough to form a ball. If it still has not come together entirely after a few minutes of processing, add the remaining cold water, a tablespoon at a time. (I ended up using 5 T)

Wrap dough ball in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a sheet tray with parchment paper. Have another piece of parchment paper ready for rolling.

Cut the ball of dough in half. Return the other half to the refrigerator. Put the ball of dough onto the parchment-lined sheet tray. Cover it with the other piece of parchment paper. Carefully, roll out the dough to a rectangle about 1/2 the length of the sheet tray, or until the dough is about 1/4-inch thick (there will be extra ragged edges). Cut the dough into desired shape and number of pieces. Dust with cinnamon sugar if desired and roll over to make it stick. Refrigerate the dough for 15 minutes. Repeat with other half of dough ball.

After 15 minutes, using the tines of a fork, prick holes into the crackers in whatever pattern you want. Bake the graham cracker dough until golden brown and starting to be hard, about 15 to 20 minutes. Turn the tray halfway through to even baking. Allow them to cool on the sheet tray until they are cool; they will harden as they cool.

 

Graham Crackers
adapted from Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It; makes ~2-3 dozen

in the event that you aren’t going to demolish these right away, two at a time with chocolate and marshmallow in the center, these babies will keep for 2 weeks in an airtight container. they could also be frozen for 2 months – just unthaw for a couple of hours before eating.

printable version (crackers only)

ingredients
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 c all purpose flour
1 t kosher salt
2 t baking powder
1/3 c unsalted butter, chilled
1/4 c honey
1/4 c blackstrap molasses
1/3 c + 4 T sugar
1/4 c 2% milk
1/2 t vanilla extract
cinnamon sugar, optional

special equipment: a food processor, a rolling pin and if you want jagged edges, a fluted pastry cutter

instructions
Measure out flours and put into food processor. Mix together with salt and baking powder. Mix until everything is well combined.

Cut the butter into small pieces. Add to the food processor. Pulse until the butter is incorporated into the flours. The mixture should have a coarse texture. Add the honey, molasses, and the 1/3 c sugar, blend. Add milk and vanilla and mix until a stiff soft dough forms.

Wrap dough ball in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a sheet tray with parchment paper. Have another piece of parchment paper ready for rolling.

Cut the ball of dough in half. Return the other half to the refrigerator. Put the ball of dough onto the parchment-lined sheet tray. Cover it with the other piece of parchment paper. Carefully, roll out the dough to a rectangle about 1/2 the length of the sheet tray, or until the dough is about 1/4-inch thick (there will be extra ragged edges; should be ~12×15 inches). Cut the dough into desired shape and number of pieces. Dust with cinnamon sugar if desired and roll over to make it stick. Refrigerate the dough for 15 minutes. Repeat with other half of dough ball.

After 15 minutes, using the tines of a fork, prick holes into the crackers in whatever pattern you want. Bake the graham cracker dough until dark brown and starting to be hard, about 18-22 minutes. Turn the tray halfway through to even baking. Allow them to cool on the sheet tray until they are cool; they will harden as they cool.

Homemade Mint Marshmallows
makes ~2 dozen large marshmallows

another variation on a favorite new treat of mine!

printable version (marshmallow only)

ingredients
3 .25 oz envelopes of unflavored gelatin
2 c sugar
3/4 c corn syrup
1/4 t salt
1 t mint extract
1/2 c of powdered sugar
Water

must-haves
candy thermometer
stand mixer

instructions
Line your square baking pan with foil and spray with cooking spray (foil is optional if you use enough spray).

In the bottom of your mixer, mix the gelatin with a 1/2 cup of water. Let it sit for 10 minutes.

In a large pot, mix together the sugar, corn syrup and 1/4 cup of water. Insert the candy thermometer and turn the heat onto medium low. Without stirring, let the syrup cook until it reaches 248 degrees.

Remove from heat and slowly add sugar syrup to the gelatin mixture. Add the salt and mix at high speed for 10 minutes or until it’s fluffy and tripled in size (may take less time, so check). Add the mint extract and pour marshmallow fluff into prepared pan.

Let it set for at least four hours. Remove marshmallow slab from the pan. Cover both sides of slab with powdered sugar. With a sharp knife, cut marshmallow into squares using scissors or a sharp knife coated in cooking spray or powdered sugar.

I Must Be Nuts

You may know this already, if you know me personally or if you’ve been reading along for oh I don’t know, a week – but I can be a bit nutty sometimes. One time, I booked the wrong flight from NC to IL and got to the airport only to find that my flight left me the day before! My mom was selfishly ecstatic; meanwhile, Hubs was bitterly picking a Benjamin from our money tree. I forgot to include a dryer sheet the other day and I had static cling all morning until I was rescued by the static cling fairy one of the admins in my department. Static cling just isn’t pretty. I’ve missed my train stop a couple of times in the past month or two because, as opposed to most other people who miss their stops because they are sleeping, I’m just daydreaming. And just now, I received an email from someone searching for me because i forgot to include contact information on a hotel booking form. Thank goodness for google searches, eh?

I even went to culinary school once. Isn’t that just batty? I was in class three nights a week learning how to use aspic and how to make puff pastry from scratch, among other things. And as silly and nutty as that may have been, I loved every second of it. I miss it, in a way. And since finishing that last class and getting my official ‘culinary certificate’ in the mail, I’ve wondered where my place is in that world. I’ve wondered how to comfortably nestle my career as a genetic counselor into the arms of something I find even more rewarding, invigorating, and downright satisfying on so many levels – food. Not just eating food, but the entire process of it and the happiness that comes when you cook for others. Nourishing them, expanding limits of what they will eat, expanding limits of what I will eat – ultimately, that is what makes me smile, and that’s what this is all about.

Which brings me to ‘step 1’ and item #3 on my New Years Resolution list.I am officially for hire! Is that crazy, or what? So go on and read here for the details, and then spread the word! And if you’re up for being my sous chef one day, just holler :).

To really seal the deal on all this talk about nuttiness, I find it nothing short of mandatory to discuss homemade granola bars. Seriously, you really shouldn’t buy them at the store as they are loaded with all sorts of icky things. Plus, they are so freakin’ easy to make it’s not even funny. There are oodles of recipes online, so I’m not suggesting that you have to make these, but I’m biased and I can vouch for them – they will knock your socks off, even if you’re wearing two to three pairs these days.

I’m not sure what it is that makes these so awesome, but usually anything containing molasses is enough to make me drool like a St Bernard. Most recipes I saw used honey, but I had plenty of other sweeteners I wanted to try and I do love me some Grandma’s Molasses and have very fond memories of pouring it onto Aunt Faye’s buttermilk biscuits as a child. I think the agave nectar refines the taste a bit so that the bars aren’t overloaded with molasses, and you could surely use honey if you prefer, or even maple syrup. Either way, they truly are morsels of utter tastiness – sweet enough, chewy enough, and loaded nuts which add just the right amount of texture.

To boot, they are healthy and chock-full of all those good-for-you things that you want to consume first thing in the morning. Or afternoon. Or as a late night snack. No matter when, it’s a kind of nutty thing you just have to do, and you’ll never go back to those quaker granola bars again – unless you’re even nuttier than I think you are :).

Easy Granola Bars
makes 12 individual bars

yes, the version below is overflowing with ingredients. the thing about granola bars is you can totally make them your own by adding whatever suits ya. i’ll put an abbreviated recipe below so you can see how creative  you can be. because i’m all about making your life easy – especially making granola bars easy. because they are…

printable recipe

ingredients
2 c oats
3/4 c pumpkin seeds (or other seed combo)
3/4 c ground flax seeds
1/4 c macadamia nuts, finely chopped
1/4 c pecans, finely chopped
1/2 c walnuts, finely chopped
1/2 c almonds, finely chopped
1/2 c light brown sugar
1/4 c agave nectar
1/4 c molasses
3 T unsalted butter, optional
1 t vanilla extract
1/4 t salt
1/4 c unsweetened coconut flakes
1/4 c dried apricots, finely chopped
1/4 c dried figs, finely chopped
1/4 c golden raisins, finely chopped

instructions
preheat oven to 350 F. mix oats, seeds, and nuts into 9×13″ baking dish. toast nuts for ~20 minutes. dump in large mixing bowl when toasted and wipe down baking dish. toss in coconut and dried fruits and mix well.

while toasting oat/seed/nut mixture, heat sugar, agave nectar, molasses, butter, and vanilla in a medium saucepan until butter melts and mixture comes to simmer. pour hot mixture into the other ingredients and mix thoroughly.

line baking dish with parchment paper and pour sticky mixture into dish. spread evenly. use another sheet of parchment paper to press down on mixture with your hands to ensure the mixture is evenly distributed, but also to ensure there are no bubbles and that the mixture is packed densely.

remove from dish by grabbing parchment paper and lifting up. turn out onto cutting board and cut into whatever size you want (i cut into 12 rectangular shapes). they can be stored at room temp for a couple of weeks or stored for even longer in the freezer.

 

Easier Granola Bars
makes 12 individual bars

as promised, here’s the short and sweet version

printable recipe

ingredients
2 c oats**
1 1/2 c seeds*
1 1/2 c finely chopped nuts
1/2 c light brown sugar
1/2 c liquid sweetener
3 T unsalted butter, optional
1 t vanilla extract
1/4 t salt
1/4 c unsweetened coconut flakes, optional
3/4 c dried fruit, chocolate chips, or both

instructions
preheat oven to 350 F. mix oats, seeds, and nuts into 9×13″ baking dish. toast nuts for ~20 minutes. dump in large mixing bowl when toasted and wipe down baking dish. toss in coconut and dried fruits and mix well.

while toasting oat/seed/nut mixture, heat sugar, liquid sugars, butter, and vanilla in a medium saucepan until butter melts and mixture comes to simmer. pour hot mixture into the other ingredients and mix thoroughly.

line baking dish with parchment paper and pour sticky mixture into dish. spread evenly. use another sheet of parchment paper to press down on mixture with your hands to ensure the mixture is evenly distributed, but also to ensure there are no bubbles and that the mixture is packed densely.

remove from dish by grabbing parchment paper and lifting up. turn out onto cutting board and cut into whatever size you want (i cut into 12 rectangular shapes). they can be stored at room temp for a couple of weeks or stored for even longer in the freezer.

*any seed combo. or wheat germ. if using flax, grind them first!
** gluten-free oats available at Whole Foods

Totally Smitten w/ Pumpernickel

pumpernickel ingredients
If you haven’t heard, I’ve been making a lot of bread products lately. In class, we’ve learned how to make all sorts of baked delicacies – muffins, biscuits, 4-grain, foccacia and challah breads. We even learned how to make eclairs – those were a hit and a half with the folks at the office. Despite my excitement regarding the outcome of that gorgeous, perfectly braided (well, perfect enough) challah loaf, not to mention my tender hand muscles from kneading for two nights straight, the pages of my baking book kept somehow turning themselves to the recipe for pumpernickel. And then, as if the Oklahoma blogger were reading my mind, she invited another blogger to her ranch where they made the prettiest darn bread I’ve ever seen. You might imagine, this sealed my fate, and prolonged the hankerin’ for a warm, dark, intensely flavored slice of pumpernickel.

more ingredients



I imagined it a number of different ways – warm (smoking, even) with butter melting into it, or perhaps toasted with cream cheese and smoked salmon inside, and the best – just plain, as my afternoon snack at work. Oh, and in the freezer – so I could pull it out whenever I wanted it!


My teachings in school had led me to believe that baking bread would be a day-long (or two day-long) process. This is not necessarily true. It is time consuming, and tedious. And this bread, this bread has a lot of ingredients (17 by my count without the optionals) – each just as important as the other. I was surprised to find that I already had 15 of those ingredients, just waiting to be brought together for the first time. I only needed the rye flour and bran and I was set. If you don’t have all of the ingredients, they are all fairly easy to locate minus the rye flour. Whole Foods carries it, but most regular grocery stores probably don’t. If you aren’t near a WF or other specialty store, like Trader Joes or Fresh Market, you can buy it online.


the yeast works!


Pumpernickel is definitely my favorite samich bread. It’s not the same as rye bread, which I don’t love so much. I’m not certain that I’ve actually eaten true German pumpkernickel bread, and this version is definitely not true German pumpernickel, but rather the Americanized version. Traditional pumpernickel has a looooong baking time (meaning a whole day in a steamed oven – by no means a “green” practice) and use of a Sourdough starter, which is also used in rye breads. The long baking time brings out that coffee/dark chocolate flavor, while the starter contributes to rising.


dough rising


We Americans cheat a little in the making of pumpernickel by baking it less and instead, adding the flavors lost by such faux pas. Hence the addition of molasses (as if adding molasses to anything deems explanation), espresso, cocoa powder. Hell – none of those require explanation, but I had a feeling if I didn’t tell you, you’d unnecessarily burn kilocalories by furrowing your brow, frowning, and quite possibly, turning your nose up at the thought of adding such ingredients to bread. Save yourself the trouble – please – they are necessary! And in absence of the starter, as preferred by die Deutsch, we add wheat flour and yeast to facilitate gluten formation and the rise.


rounded and ready to bake


You’ll also notice the choice of using a loaf pan or rounding your dough. It doesn’t take a professional baker to realize the difference here, people. [Think: if you put your dough in a pan, how does that affect the baking? And conversely, how about letting it bake openly in the comfort of a parchment-lined baking pan?]. Er… the answer is… you get a loaf that is very dense or a round that is a bit ‘airier’. All about your preference – I like the less dense version, personally. But suit yourself.


I bet by now you are doing one of two things: cursing yourself for reading a blog entry about something you could care less about or performing a mental checklist of your pantry to see what you’re gonna have to buy to make the best bread on earth. I hope it’s the latter, but if not – your loss. I have another round in my freezer so I won’t be missing out any time soon.


cut wonkily


Russian Black Bread
from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted from Beth Hensperger’s The Bread Bible
Makes 2 large, in charge, rounds or loaves


printable recipe

ingredients
2 packages of active dry yeast
Pinch of sugar
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups water
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
4 T unsalted butter
1 oz unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3 cups rye flour
3 cups bread flour
1 cup oat bran
2 T caraway seeds
1/2 t fennel seeds
1 T salt
1 T instant espresso powder
1 T minced shallots
1/4 cup cornmeal (optional)
1 T all purpose flour (optional)
1 t caraway seeds (optional)


Special stuff: stand mixer (can do all by hand if you’ve got muscles and energy!), spice grinder (optional), instant-read thermometer (optional)


instructions
1. In a small bowl, combine yeast & sugar with warm water. Stir to dissolve and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. This ensures your yeast is alive 🙂


2. Heat 2 cups water, molasses, vinegar, butter & chocolate until the butter and chocolate are melted. Set aside, and let cool to warm so it doesn’t kill the yeast.


3. Combine whole-wheat, rye, and bread flours in a large bowl. Set aside.


4. In a bowl of a heavy mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine 2 cups mixed flours, bran, seeds (can grind prior to adding if desired), salt, espresso, and shallots. At low speed, add yeast and chocolate mixtures. (I added salt after adding yeast because I am paranoid and my baking teacher always said to add salt last).


5. At low speed, add half cup of remaining mixed flours at a time, until dough clears sides of bowl and begins to work its way up paddle. It will be sticky but firm, and you’ll probably have leftover flour.


6. Scrape dough off paddle, flour counter well, and knead to make a springy yet dense dough (until it looks sexy, as my teacher says). You may still have flour left over, but maybe not.


7. Form into a ball and place in a bowl sprayed with Pam. Turn over to grease top. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm area until doubled, about 1 1/2-2hours (I preheat oven to 100 and then turn off, leaving door open to let temp drop some before putting dough in). Meanwhile, combine cornmeal, flour, and remaining seeds if you’re topping the bread before baking, and set aside.


8. Deflate dough. Turn out onto lightly floured surface. Divide into 2 equal portion and form into two rounds or loaves. If making loaves, place in a sprayed loaf pan. If rounds (like mine) place seam down on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet (one round per sheet). Sprinkle w/ mixture if using. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise again, until doubled, about 45 min to 1 hour. Slash an X into the top of a round before baking (none needed for loaves); you can see from my pictures that you don’t want to slash too deep or it affects the prettiness. Just a small slash.


9. Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes or until internal temperature of 200-210. I baked mine for about 40-45 minutes. (1/2 way through baking, I switched the positions of each sheet too). Remove from sheet and cool completely on a rack.


10. Let it cool (if you can resist the urge), and then slop whatever your little heart desires on it.


p.s. – I’m aware that, if this is your first foray into the wonderul world of bread-baking that this recipe might be a bit intimidating. I’ve found that making bread definitely takes practice. You can probably tell I need some practice prettying up my bread – rounding and scoring are not my good points – not yet! So, if you’re scurred (Southern for scared), drop me a line in the comment box, and I’ll find you something more basic to start with. Promise 🙂

Marmalade & The Rainbow

gingerbread cake with marmalade filling

If you know anything about Scottish pop, you may have heard of a band called Marmalade. They’ve been compared to the Beatles (?), but mistakenly covered a pretty popular Beatles song back in the day, which turned out to be their biggest “hit”. Hence the reason they never became too popular. They do have a handful of good songs though – “Reflections of My Life”, “Carolina on My Mind” (which I’m quite sure was a James Taylor original and thus another cover song), and a little diddy called “Rainbow”. Though you may have initially thought so, this post is NOT about that band OR that song. Sorry Scottish pop lovers. But here’s a picture of them just in case you really are beat up about it:

 

marmalade the band

Sexy eh?

 

What this post is about is marmalade and a little about rainbows.

After my Sunday adventure making soup, I stole a quick peek outside to check on the weather. Rainy Sundays sure are icky. But in Chicago’s early March, it’s always nice to have one more excuse to stay indoors. Of course, the rain continued to pour down and I found myself wondering when, or if, there might be a rainbow at the end of the nasty storm. You know, a little bright end to the day. No such luck – so rather than waiting for a happy ending in a glimmer of sunlight, I decided to create my own. Cake. Cake with Coconut and Ginger. Cake with Orange Marmalade.


Tropical Gingerbread Cake
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine

Printable recipe

ingredients
Cake:

Cooking spray
9 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2 cups)
1 t baking powder
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t salt
1/2 c butter, softened
3/4 c granulated sugar, divided
1/2 c packed brown sugar
2 T finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
2 large egg yolks
2 T molasses
3/4 c light coconut milk
4 large egg whites

Frosting
3 large egg whites
Dash of salt
3/4 c granulated sugar
1/4 c water
1/2 t vanilla extract

Remaining ingredients:
1/4 cup orange marmalade
1/4 cup flaked sweetened coconut, toasted

Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 350°.

 2. To prepare cake, lightly coat 2 (9-inch) cake pans with cooking spray.

 3. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon salt, stirring well with a whisk.

4. Place butter, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, and ginger in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 5 minutes). Add egg yolks, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in molasses. Beating at low speed, add flour mixture to butter mixture alternately with coconut milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture.

5. Place 4 egg whites in a large, clean bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until soft peaks form using clean, dry beaters. Gradually add remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form.

6. Gently stir one-fourth of egg white mixture into batter; gently fold in remaining egg white mixture. Pour batter into prepared pans.

7. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes on a wire rack. Remove from pans; cool completely on wire racks.

8. To prepare frosting, place 3 egg whites and dash of salt in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until foamy using clean, dry beaters. Combine 3/4 cup granulated sugar and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan; bring to boil. Cook, without stirring, until candy thermometer registers 250°. Pour hot sugar syrup in a thin stream over egg white mixture, beating at high speed until stiff peaks form. Beat in vanilla.

9. Place 1 cake layer on a plate; spread with marmalade and 1 cup frosting. Top with remaining cake layer. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake; sprinkle top of cake with toasted coconut. Store cake loosely covered in refrigerator.

At first I was a bit concerned about my gingerbread cake, as the layers were a little crooked. I can’t say that I’ve ever made a cake with “uncrooked” layers though, now that I think about it. After the first taste, I knew I was being silly. It was dense for cake with egg whites, but full of flavor. If you don’t like ginger, you wouldn’t like it though. Since there’s fresh ginger in it, you get a nice fresh taste of it every so often. And the coconut on the outside has a lovely crunch that almost melts in your mouth with the soft fluffy icing.

In addition to absolutely loving this cake recipe, what also made me post this story is a discussion I heard on NPR. I recently started plugging in my iphone on the commute in an attempt to smarten up and listen to the news. Of course I managed to find an NPR podcast about food. So much for listening to news… ! The segment today had a brief tidbit on marmalade. Of all things, a lovely ingredient that just happened to have found its way in to my cake! Apparently marmalade sales have seen an 8% decline over the last year. What is that??!!! Why oh why would someone stop buying marmalade? I must say I was a little saddended by that fact. But on the other hand, I knew I wasn’t one of those losers contributing to the decline in sales. Who are these people and how do we stop them??!

Take home message: Buy some Smucker’s Orange Marmalade (or make your own) and make this cake! You’ll be glad you did. I sure am.