Monday, January 30, 2012

The Science of Sandwich Bread

About a year ago, with the inception of this blog, I baked several loaves of delicious homemade bread and concocted the perfect Sicilian pizza crust. Since then, I've said "yes to yeast" on maybe three or four occasions. So much for the weekly fresh-baked bread.

It's not that my other attempts at bread-making have failed. They've gone fairly well. It's just that it's a time-consuming process. The mixing, and rising, and waiting, and punching, and kneading really make bread-baking a weekend job. But it appears that years ago, I had aspirations to turn my baking from weekends-only to weekdays.

As I was rearranging my newly remodeled kitchen, I came across a book called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. Jeff and Zoe promised me fresh, yeast-y and delicious bread recipes without the day-long hassle. And, for the first time since the book arrived on my doorstep in 2007, I learned that they were right. You can make fresh bread in about half the time and with a fraction of the effort as traditional recipes.

Generally, their idea is to make a base bread dough in large batches, refrigerate it, and lop off lumps for baking whenever you like. The key is that the dough you mix is high moisture, which helps reduce or eliminate the need for proofing, kneading, or super long rising times. Most of the dough recipes, like this one, can also be used immediately without the refrigerator storage step.

I chose this particular loaf for two reasons: one, it sound delish! and two, it was a recipe adapted from ATK's very own Chris Kimball. You know I love all things America's Test Kitchen, so this was a natural choice. I halved this recipe and made a few minor tweaks (eliminating wheat germ, for one) and was in love with the results. I probably say this every time I pull a loaf out of the oven, but this was the best bread I've ever made. And this time I mean it! It's soft in the center with just the right amount of crunch to the crust, the perfect balance of airy and dense, and subtly sweet. I thought for sure it would be best when it was still warm, smeared with a bit of butter, but it was just as yummy today, at room temp and sans butter!

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
1 1/2 cup warm water (between 100-110 degrees)
3/4 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup rye flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Combine water, yeast, salt, honey, and butter in mixer bowl. Allow to stand 5 minutes. Add rye flour, whole wheat flour, and all-purpose flour. Using dough hook attachment, mix until dough pulls away from sides of bowl and forms a ball. (You may find it necessary to sprinkle a tablespoon or two of flour into the dough to aid this process, but the dough should still be quite sticky but cohesive.)

Cover mixer bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel. Allow to rise in a warm place (like next to the stove or on top of the oven) for 2 hours.

Grease a loaf pan with cooking spray. Dust the dough with more flour and shape it into a ball by stretching it around to the bottom on all four sides. Form an elongated oval and place it into prepared pan. Allow to rest 40 minutes.

With 20 minutes of resting time remaining, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a shallow pan on bottom oven rack.

At baking time, pour 1 cup water into pan on bottom of oven (baking with steam is said to improve the color and appearance of the loaf ... and judging by my beautiful bread, it's true!). Place loaf on center oven rack. Bake approximately 40 minutes, or until evenly browned and firm.

Allow to cool before slicing.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Soup: Spicy and Sweet

Knowing how busy my week is going to be, I decided to spend Sunday afternoon getting a head start on a few meals. And a few delicious meals, if I do say so myself! As I type, the smell of my honey whole wheat bread is wafting from the oven, my braised chicken thighs are cooling in the Dutch oven, and enchilada sauce is simmering on the stove. That gives us several mouth-watering weeknight dinners, in addition to the soup that's now stored away in the fridge for my lunches this week.

This soup is coming with me to work because I don't think Bill would be a fan. Sweet potatoes aren't typically his thing, but I could eat them every day of my life. So I made a pot of this spicy and sweet soup especially for me ... and am I glad I did! Words can't describe it, you just have to try it. It's perfection.

Chipotle Sweet Potato Apple Soup
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 of a white or yellow onion, diced
1 garlic clove, smashed
1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely grated
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 gala apple, peeled and chopped
3 small sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups water
1 small chipotle chili in adobo, seeded and chopped
Salt and pepper

Heat oil to shimmering in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, and ginger and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add celery and apple and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add sweet potato and cook 5 minutes. Add chicken stock and water, bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer, mostly covered, about 45 minutes.

Stir in chipotle chili. Using an immersion blender, blend soup until smooth. (If you don't have an immersion blender, transfer soup in batches to blender or food processor, process until smooth, and return to pot.) Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Lost Recipes: Chicken Marsala

Chicken Marsala has always been one of my favorites, likely because it was one of the "fancy" dinners my mom would make. Breaking out the Marsala wine was an occasion in our house and a break from the stand-by meals that were no less delicious, but much quicker to make on a weeknight. I remember thinking we were so gourmet when she'd put this dish on the table some Saturday nights :)

A long time ago, when I spent much less time in the kitchen than I do these days, I made a delicious Marsala. I don't know if it was the same recipe my mom used or where I might have found it, but I was pretty impressed with my re-creation of this sometimes family favorite. Unfortunately, I was terrible at saving recipes when I used them less frequently so that particular chicken Marsala may never see the light of my kitchen again.

I'm sure I've used several different recipes for Marsala since then, with varying levels of success. A few months ago I experimented with yet another, but never got around to recording it here (despite the fact that it may have been the best I ever made!). I came across the photo a couple weeks ago and for the life of me, I couldn't remember what recipe I'd used ... again. And then I was browsing my recipe box on and found what must have been the one!

I'll be hanging on to this recipe adapted from Tyler Florence ... and I'd suggest you bookmark it, too!

Chicken Marsala
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
All-purpose flour, for dredging
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
4 oz. prosciutto, thinly sliced
8 oz. crimini or porcini mushrooms, stemmed and halved
1/2 cup Marsala wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons butter

Place chicken breasts side by side on a cutting board and lay a piece of plastic wrap over them. Pound with a mallet until about 1/4-inch thick. Place flour in a shallow dish and season with salt and pepper; mix with a fork.
Heat oil over medium-high heat in large skillet. Dredge both sides of chicken cutlets in seasoned flour, shaking off excess. Carefully lay cutlets into the pan and fry 5 minutes on each side until golden, turning once. Remove chicken to large platter to keep warm.

Lower heat to medium and add prosciutto to pan drippings; saute 1 minute. Add mushrooms and saute until browned and  moisture has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Pour Marsala in pan and boil for a few seconds to cook out the alcohol. Add chicken stock and simmer 1 minute to reduce sauce slightly. Stir in butter and return chicken to the pan; simmer gently, about 1 minute, to heat the chicken through. Season with salt and pepper before serving. (I served mine over buttery, cheesy polenta and it was amazing!)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Nod to Cod

You probably know that I rarely prepare seafood. In fact, I can probably count the number of fresh (read: not out of a can) seafood dishes I've made on one hand. It's partly due to a fear of fish ... it can be easy to prepare, but equally as easy to ruin. I'm also not a huge fish fan, a fact that's shocking to most people who know that I grew up next to an ocean.

I've begun to outgrow both my fears of fish, and now I occasionally crave it. Granted, my usual craving is for a super mild type, like cod. The dish below marks my second successful attempt at cod and was just as delicious as the first! It looks like I might be on to something here, but it remains to be seen if I can branch beyond cod.

Seared Cod with Chive Butter Sauce
For Cod
4 (6-oz) cod fillets
Plain bread crumbs
1 egg
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil

For Sauce
1 sprig fresh thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon finely diced red onion
1 clove garlic, smashed
1/2 lemon, juiced
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons chopped chives

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place the bread crumbs in shallow dish. In separate shallow dish add beaten egg. Season both sides of fillets with salt and pepper. Dip one side of cod in egg, then dip egg side into bread crumbs.

Heat oil in skillet over high heat. Carefully place fillets in skillet, breadcrumb-side down. Once seared, place the skillet in oven, 3 to 4 minutes, until cooked through.
While cod is cooking, prepare suace. In saucepan, add thyme, shallot, garlic, and lemon juice and bring to a slight simmer. Whisk in butter. When melted, add chives and season with pepper. Serve over fish.

The Icing on the Cake

When it comes to birthday cakes, I just didn't think you could beat chocolate cake with chocolate frosting ... until I had chocolate cake with fudge frosting! This isn't the chocolate fudge frosting that comes out of a can and it's certainly not your average buttercream. This is full-on fudge, cooked, cooled, and spread on thick!

Bless America's Test Kitchen for enlightening me with this recipe (and all their other recipes in the Chocolate Desserts collection). I hereby swear that I will never make another chocolate frosting. We celebrated two birthdays at the office this week, which was a perfect occasion for this confection. But despite those birthday celebrations, I hoarded this cake in my office so I only had to share it with a select few!

Wellesley Fudge Cake
For Cake
2 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup hot water
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softended
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla

For Frosting
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 oz. bitterwseet chocolate1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups confectioners' sugar

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 2 8-inch square cake pans. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in bowl. Set aside. In another bowl, whisk hot (not quite boiling) water with cocoa powder until smooth. Set aside. Using stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, and mix until incorporated. Add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with 2 additions buttermilk. Mix until combined. Reduce speed to low and slowly add cocoa mixture and vanilla until incorporated.

Divide batter evenly between pans and smooth tops with spatula. Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out with just a few crumbs attached. (Note: The recipe called for a cooking time of 25 to 30 minutes. My cakes took closer to 40 minutes, and I don't think it's the fault of my brand new, spiffy oven.) Let cakes cool in pans 15 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack. Let cool completely, about 1 hour. (Another note: I let my cakes cool completely in their pans and the bottoms ended up sticking and requiring a minor repair job in the frosting stage. I used plenty of cooking spray and flour so I'm not sure what happened, but next time I will attempt to turn them out earlier.)

For the frosting, heat brown sugar, 1/2 cup evaporated milk, 4 tablespoons butter, and salt in large saucepan over medium heat until small bubbles appear around perimeter of pan, 4 to 8 minutes. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture has thickened and turned deep golden brown, about 6 minutes. Transfer to large bowl. Cut remaining butter into 4 pieces and stir in with remaining evaporated milk until mixture is slightly cool. Add chocolate and vanilla and stir until smooth. Whisk in confectioners' sugar until incorporated. Let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour. (Warning: You will be eating spoonfuls with every stir. It's impossible to resist.)

Place 1 cake square on serving platter. If necessary, use a sharp, serrated knife to level the top of the cake. Spread 1 cup frosting over cake, then top with second cake square. Spread remaining frosting evenly over top and sides of cake. Slice (or not) and dig in!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Creme de Menthe Delightful

I find myself baking for other people constantly, but it's not very often that anyone returns the favor. I'm not complaining because I understand that it's far better to give than to receive. But every so often it's nice to see someone bearing a delicious dessert pop up on your doorstep!

Enter my good friend Stephanie, who I believe loves to bake almost as much as I do. She's notorious for repaying favors with cookies and scones (which is a perfectly acceptable form of payment, as far as I'm concerned!), and she makes a downright delightful creme de menthe cheesecake. I've been lucky enough to devour Stephanie's famous cheesecake on two occasions now, most recently this past weekend when she brought it to dinner (and saved me from having to make dessert in my under-renovation kitchen). It was even better than I remember it being the first time I was fortunate enough to have it, which was at my bridal shower in 2009.

It was, in fact, so delicious, that I decided I HAD to feature it here on LoV Bites. Lucky for you, Stephanie agreed to send me the recipe ... along with an adorable picture of the first time the cheesecake made an appearance :)

Coincidentally, Stephanie's recipe comes from the Pampered Chef Festive Holiday Desserts cookbook, and I happened to be serving a menu full of Pampered Chef dishes on Saturday night! Having to clean out my cabinets for the work in our kitchen turned up a ton of books I'd forgotten I had, including a Pampered Chef Cooking for Two and More cookbook that I don't even remember acquiring. Luckily, the panzanella, herbed fettucine, and caramelized garlic and sage stuffed chicken breast recipes make it one worth pulling off the shelf more often!

Stephanie's Creme de Menthe Cheesecake
For Crust
14-16 creme-filled chocolate sandwich cookies, finely crushed (Stephanie used the Cool Mint Oreos!)

For Filling
4, 8 oz. packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
4 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
8-12 drop green food coloring
2 packages creme de menthe candies (preferably Andes), about 56 candies total

For Topping
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate morsels
1 1/2 cups frozen whipped topping, thawed
7 creme de menthe candies (reserved from filling)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly spray sides of springform pan with non-stick cooking spray. Line sides of pan with parchment paper. Press cookie crumbs into bottom and up sides of pan. Bake crust 8 minutes. Cool completely.

Using a hand mixer, beat cream cheese, sugar, 3 tablespoons flour, and vanilla, about 3 minutes or until well-blended. Add eggs and mix on low speed about 2 minutes., Add sour cream and food coloring and mix until smooth.

Set aside 7 candies for topping. Cut remaining candies in half crosswise and toss with 1 tablespoon flour. Pour half of filling into crust. Arrange candies, slightly overlapping, over filling. Gently spoon remaining filling over candies. Bake 55 to 60 minutes or until center appears nearly completely set when gently shaken (center will firm as it cools). Cool completely, about 3 hours.

Place chocolate morsels, whipped topping, and reserved candies into a double boiler and melt until completely smooth. Spread topping over center of cheesecake. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Cacciatore Story

Given my half Italian roots, it ought to be pretty shocking that I've never made chicken cacciatore. I remember it being one of my grandfather's favorite dishes, something he ordered whenever we went out. Considering how much he loved it, I'm not sure why my grandmother never cooked it. Surely, if she had I would have made it dozens of times by now!

It's not a difficult dish to make, and it certainly satisfies a winter meal craving. I started with this basic recipe adapted from Better Homes & Gardens below, which was super tasty, but I have a feeling I'll be working to perfect it over the next few, cold months!

Chicken Cacciatore
2 teaspoons olive oil
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 medium onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
8 oz. white mushrooms, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup white wine
1 (14.5 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper
Hot cooked rice or pasta

Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Brown chicken on all sides; remove from skillet and set aside.

Add onion, bell pepper, mushrooms, and garlic to skillet. Cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add wine to skillet, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan. Return chicken to skillet. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, and Italian seasoning to skillet. Stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer 20 to 25 minutes (until thighs register 180 degrees).

Serve over rice or pasta.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Flip Over Tri Tip

Until one of my most recent visits back home to the Bay Area, it hadn't occurred to me that there are some definite regional favorites in California that are missing from the Midwest. I could have named dozens of dishes native to Milwaukee (Friday fish fry, beer-braised brats, fried cheese curds, frozen custard), but with the exception of sourdough bread, I'd have drawn a blank if you asked me what California is known for. Until a couple weeks ago.

I don't know now what sparked it, but suddenly everyone was talking about tri tip. Guy Fieri (another Northern California native) was making it on his show, I was seeing recipes in magazines, it was being sold alongside the rotisserie chickens at my mom's grocery store ... and I realized it had been years since I'd had it because you just don't find it here in Milwaukee. Just like you don't find 27 varieties of sausage in your California corner store.

I didn't have a chance to pick up a tri tip while I was at home in the Bay, but Bill and I were in for a surprise when we returned to Wisco. Wandering aimlessly around the meat department at Sendik's on New Year's Eve (Me: "Lobster?" Bill: "No." Me: "Lamb chops?" Bill: "Nuh-uh."), I came across a familiar-looking cut of beef. That lean, triangular, 2-pound steak was what I thought I'd never see on our supermarket shelves: tri tip. Bill didn't have a choice on that one. I snatched it up.

As with most delicious cuts of meat, its beauty lies in the fact that it doesn't take much to make it delicious. Just marinate, grill, and enjoy. The sweet, caramelized, crusty ends are going to be the best part, but you'll also enjoy the super tender and juicy center. I made Ina Garten's equally easy sauteed broccolini (that recipe is also below) to go with it, but it really doesn't need more than a green salad and a hunk of bread.

Marinated Tri Tip
1 tri tip roast, about 2-2 1/2 lbs.
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon garlic salt

Combine all ingredients in a large zip-top bag, ensuring roast is completely coated with marinade. Refrigerate, at least 6 hours but up to 24 hours, turning once.

Remove roast from refrigerator prior to preparing grill. When grill is ready (for maximum charring action, we discovered it's best to have a hot side and cool side of the grill, and the hot side must be VERY hot), place tri tip on hot side. Grill meat 6 to 7 minutes per side, move to cool side of grill, and grill another 6 minutes. Remove meat from grill and allow to rest 10 minutes. Slice at a bias against the grain and serve.

Sauteed Broccolini
1 bunch broccolini
2 tablespoons butter
1 clove garlic, finely chipped
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Blanch broccolini in boiling water 2 minutes. Drain and immediately place in bowl of ice water (to stop cooking and help broccolini retain its crunch).

Melt butter in large skillet. Add garlic and lemon zest. Add broccolini and saute about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Squeeze lemon juice over broccolini just before serving.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy Anniversary, LoV Bites!

Well, today marks exactly one year since I ventured into the world of food blogging. And what a year it's been! I've made countless delicious dishes, a number of new friends, and even achieved a few minutes of fame. A year ago I couldn't have imagined how much use my kitchen would see, how many people I'd have supporting and encouraging me, and how much fun this would be!

Let's run down some of the highlights of LoV Bites' first year ...

The recipe wishlist. I've had a running list (or rather, a box full) of recipes I've wanted to try forever. Luckily, LoV Bites gave me a more organized place to put them. I created my recipe wishlist in March and have been steadily knocking out dishes ever since. I have many more recipes sitting in my "to do" pile than are listed here, but this serves as a reminder of some of the most desirable. I've set no goal for completing them because these certainly aren't the easiest dishes. If anything, they're the most challenging I care to attempt. I made a pretty good dent this year, but I don't ever plan to cross them all off. The joy of the wishlist is that it's forever growing! If you have ideas, I would love, love, love to hear them.

Making foodie friends. Who knew there was such a wide world of food lovers out here in cyberspace? Little did I realize that when I started cataloging and commenting on my recipes I was joining the ranks of a seemingly infinite number of fellow food bloggers. I've had the pleasure of e-meeting many great people this year, especially in the Milwaukee food scene. I was invited to join Your Milwaukee Dining as a facebook contributor, snapping shots of some of my most delicious meals in the city. I also won a couple guest spots on Chicago's Foodie Finds blog where I contributed posts about La Merenda and the Cream and Crepe Cafe. And I garnered 90+ Twitter followers, most of whom are fellow food lovers. It's been an awesome year of connecting and I'm looking forward to meeting many more friends in the year ahead!

Awards from America's Test Kitchen. Perhaps my most surprising and proud moments of 2011 came via America's Test Kitchen. It's no secret that I'm a huge ATK fan and I use their recipes often. For pure fun, I went out on a limb and entered several of their "Dish it Your Way" blogger challenges on ATK's The Feed website this summer. I shared Jen's Juicy Lucy during burger week and my Chocolate Dipped Cone Cupcakes during cupcake week. But the highlight was WINNING (yes, I said winning) the mac and cheese challenge with my Deep Fried Mac and Cheese! I couldn't have been more thrilled to have one of my own recipes spotlighted on The Feed. It was a big deal for an amateur like me!

So here's to another amazing year of food and friends. I hope you've enjoyed the journey so far as much as I have. Cheers!