Friday, January 23, 2015

French-Style Country Bread

From my oven today: French-style country bread. I found this recipe on the King Arthur Flour website. They provided a detailed but quite lengthy recipe which seemed a little daunting at first. This recipe is  somewhat  time-consuming and requires a bit of extra attention (with a "starter" that has to be prepared a few hours in advance, and instructions such as spritzing the bread in the oven every few minutes for the first fifteen minutes of baking. ) But I was up to the challenge.  After all, I have found that few things are more comforting that freshly made bread. The results are well-worth the time and effort. 

French-Style Country Bread 

Sponge Starter 
1 cup cool to lukewarm water (90 to 100 °F)
1/2 tsp active dry or instant yeast 
1 1/4 cups unbleached bread flour 
1/4 cup whole wheat flour 

All of the sponge starter 
1 cup lukewarm water (100 to 115 °F
3/4 tsp active dry or 1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 tbsp sugar 
1 cup whole wheat flour 
2 1/4 to 2 3/4 bread four
1 1/2  tsp salt

To make the starter: In a larger bowl, stir all of the ingredients together to make a thick paste. Cover with plastic wrap and set on the kitchen counter for about 4 hours or over night. 

To make the dough: Stir down the starter. Add the water, yeast, sugar, whole wheat flour, 2 1/4 cup bread flour (reserve half cup to use if the dough is too sticky), and the salt. Knead the dough for about 10 to 12 minutes to make a soft dough. (I found that this step is made easier by using a stand up mixture.) 

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl and cover with lightly greased plastic wrap and a damp towel. Let it rise until almost doubled in size, about 1 to 2 hours. After this first rise, deflate the dough gently and form into a round ball. Place two cookie sheets atop one another and place a semolina or corn-meal dusted piece of parchment paper on top. Gently place the ball of dough on the cookie sheets, seam side down. Cover with a tea towel and let it rise a second time until it is puffy and about 40% to 50% larger, anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes. Slash or cross-hash the bread with a sharp knife and dust with a little flour. 

Preheat the oven to 475 °F  Spritz water into the oven with a clean plant mister and place the bread in the oven. Reduce the heat to 425 °F and spritz with water every few minutes for the first 15 minutes of baking. Bake the bread for about 20 to 30 minutes or until done. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Green Goddess Dressing

This is the month of resolutions. Many of us have resolved to make changes in our lives, most of which involve some improvement to our health. Join a gym. Give up fast foods. Sign up for a weekly yoga class. Go vegan. Eat more salads. With regards to my own eating habits, my goal is to become a little more inventive, by trying new ingredients in (or new methods of making) some traditional dishes. Starting with this dressing - my version of green goddess. The dressing is, understandably, wonderful on salads but don't be surprised if you feel compelled to have it on...well things other than salads. Along with the creamiest of textures, it is both sweet and tangy and can be used as a sauce on pan-seared fish, a topping on tacos, and even as a dip for tortillas or pita chips. What's more, it's vegan! Here's to a happy,  healthy, and adventurous new year! 

Green Goddess Dressing

1 large, ripe avocado
juice of 1 lime
2 to 3 whole cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
4 scallions, roughly chopped
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 tbsp apple cider vinegar
salt, to taste
1/4 to 1/2 cup water

Add all of the ingredients, except the water, to a blender, and blitz until smooth. With the blender running, slowly add the water, beginning with 1/4 cup, until you achieve your desired consistency. More water will produce a thinner dressing. Refrigerate until ready to use, up to two days.  

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Festive Cranberry Scones

These scones are sweet yet wholesome, as I have used whole wheat pastry flour instead of regular all purpose flour. They will make a great addition to a holiday breakfast table which is exactly what I'm planning to do when my family gets here this Christmas. But this batch will be a sweet surprise for hubby when he gets home from work this evening. 

Cranberry Scones
Makes 8 

1 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
zest of one orange
5 tbsp cold, unsalted butter, cubed 
2/3 cup milk 
1/2 cup of confectioner's sugar
4 tsp orange juice

1. Set the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a baking sheet and set aside. 
2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and orange zest. 
3. Work the butter into the flour mixture until the mixture takes on a crumbly consistency. This can be done by hand or in a food processor. Combine the dried cranberries. 
4. Pour the milk into the flour mixture and mix well. The mixture will be sticky at this point. Pour it out unto a well-floured work surface and work into a round ball, adding a bit of extra flour if needed.  Flatten out into an 8" round disk, and cut into 8 wedges. 
5. Place the wedges unto the prepared baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes until golden brown. Cool completely before applying the glaze. To make the glaze combine the confectioner's sugar and the orange juice until smooth.    

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Arugula with Caramelized Pumpkin and Zucchini - a Thanksgiving Salad

I made caramelized pumpkin for the first time  a couple years ago when it was used as a topping for my pumpkin risotto. This year, I'm using it as a main ingredient in this thanksgiving salad. Also featured here is lightly grilled zucchini ribbons. Of course, grilling season is over (and I am not one of those brave souls who would still grill in sub-freezing temperatures) so I had to  resurrect my old grilling skillet for this purpose. Alternatively, lightly searing them on the bottom of a regular skillet works just fine. For the dressing, I used a store bought balsamic vinaigrette - the choice is yours. 

Arugula with Caramelized Pumpkin and Zucchini
Serves 4 

1 zucchini, cut into thin ribbons
1 tbsp vegetable oil 
8 cups arugula
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1 cup caramelized pumpkin (find recipe here)
1/3 cup candied pecans
salt and pepper

1. Brush both sides of the zucchini ribbons with the vegetable oil. Cook on a grill surface or regular skillet set on medium heat, for one minute on the first side and about 30 seconds on the other side. Set  aside. 
2. To arrange the salad, place mounds of arugula on the bottom of a large serving platter. Layer with the zucchini ribbons, followed by the caramelized pumpkin. Finish with the dried cranberries, candied pecans, salt and pepper. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Trinidad Coconut Bake

Coconut bake is  made in practically every household in Trinidad.  I was taught how to make it by my mother but my earliest memory of this uniquely Trinidadian bread was my paternal grandmother's. It was part of her weekend baking lineup. A savory bread that's made with freshly grated coconut, it is usually served for breakfast with something called salt fish buljol (salted fish with fresh tomatoes, onions, pimentos and sometimes scotch bonnet peppers).

In Trinidad, freshly grated coconut is always used for this bread. Dry coconuts are sold in every grocery store. These coconuts are then cracked and the hard jelly carefully extracted and grated by hand. Admittedly, this is a tricky process and I would not recommend it for someone who has never done this before. However, if you are so inclined, here are step by step instructions on how to do so. Alternatively, you can use store-bought, unsweetened, shredded coconut. And, while salt fish buljol is the traditional topping so to speak for this bread, it is just as delicious slathered with butter. This morning, mine will be served warm with butter and spicy scrambled eggs.

Trinidad Coconut Bake
Makes two 8" round bakes 

4 cups all purpose flour
1 packet yeast
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp cold, unsalted butter, cubed
2 cups grated fresh coconut
1 1/2 to 2 cups water

1. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the yeast, sugar and salt - combine well.
2. Work the butter into the flour mixture until fully incorporated and the mixture becomes coarse and crumbly.
3. Mix in the grated coconut.
4. Add the water and stir the mixture until a soft dough forms. Placed on a floured work surface and knead until the dough pulls together into a uniform ball, adding extra dry flour to prevent any sticking. Return to the bowl, cover with a dry towel and allow to rise for about 30 minutes.
5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a large baking sheet or two 8" round cake pans.
6. Divide the dough into two equal parts, and shape into 8 " round disks. Place on the baking sheet or in the pans and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until risen slightly and the tops have turned golden brown. Serve warm.