Wednesday, April 29, 2015

English Muffins

A while ago I struggled to get yeast to work with me.  It seemed that yeast was never going to cooperate, so I let it go.  My French bread tasted good, but just didn't have the airy deliciousness it should have.  Other breads didn't quite rise they way they should.  So I dropped yeast and yeast created items from my cooking and concentrated on cooking.  Then I decided I would try some simpler breads...first was Irish soda bread.  That turned out great; it was easy and tasty.  I thought maybe I should attempt yeast again.  I even made my own sourdough starter from scratch which basically takes natural yeast from the air, so you don't even need to buy any.  I continued to bake with yeast and things suddenly worked out.  I learned that bread and yeast can be very forgiving if you just are patient and watch how things are processing.  I still have mistakes here and there, but overall it just works out better now.

So, last weekend I decided I wanted to make English muffins.  I found a recipe from a book I have from the library, Huckleberry.  I had seen Huckleberry in a store a few weeks back, but thought that I wouldn't buy it for myself as I have a lot of baking books.  I did buy it for a friend as I knew she would like the things in there.  Once it arrived, I only took a morning to look through it before I shipped it to her.  Then, I kept thinking about those polka dot pages and decided to borrow it from the library, so I could spend more time reading through it to decide if I really wanted to own it.  The pictures are beautiful.  I couldn't get past the English muffin recipe, so I decide that I must make them.  They turned out beautifully and tomorrow my co-workers are going to get the benefit of me liking to spend time in my kitchen.

English Muffins
3 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
3 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
3 1/2 tablespoons honey
6 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
4 1/2 teaspoons salt
2/3 cup cornmeal

Warm 1 1/2 cups of buttermilk in the microwave, just until lukewarm (and a finger placed in it doesn't feel cold).  Be sure it doesn't get warmer than about 110 F or else the yeast will die.  Place 1 1/2 cups of the buttermilk in a kitchen aid bowl along with the 2 tablespoons of yeast.  Whisk to combine.  Add the warm buttermilk and whisk again to blend.  Add the butter, honey, flour, sugar and salt.  Mix on low speed with a dough hook for about a minute.  Once the dough has come together, turn the speed to medium and work the work for 1-2 additional minutes or until it is smooth.  Transfer the dough to a greased bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about an hour.

Remove dough from the refrigerator.  Sprinkle 1/3 cup of the cornmeal onto a clean work surface.  Dump the dough onto it.  Sprinkle the top with additional cornmeal.  Pat into a circle about an inch thick.  Sprinkle the remaining cornmeal onto a cookie sheet.  Cur into 3 inch rounds.  Be efficient as you cannot use any unused dough (due to the cornmeal being mixed in).  Arrange the muffins on a cookie sheet and let rise at room temperature for an hour.  (At this point you can also refrigerate and then let them rise at room temperature for an hour the next morning.)

About 30 minutes before you want to bake, preheat your oven to 350 F.  Heat a cast iron pan or griddle over medium high heat.  Drop the English muffins into the pan and cook for about 1 minute per side until each side is golden brown.

Return the muffins to the cookie sheet and immediately bake for about 10 minutes.  They should be light and fluffy when removed from the pan.  If you have more than one sheet bake it as soon as the last muffin comes off the pan.  Makes about a dozen.

(Note: I didn't want to waste the dough, so I did combine the dough into two additional muffins, but the insides had cornmeal throughout the dough, so was not the typical English muffin, but they baked up nicely.)  These will keep up to 3 days at room temperature.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Black Beans and Rice

I love beans.  I know I have said this before, but I really don't know where this obsession came from as I don't remember eating them often when I was young.  And, when I was young, we had beans with bacon which were sweet and I never liked them.  Maybe that is why once I discovered them as a savory dish I decided they were wonderful.  They are good for you.  They are filling and an alternate to eating so much meat, but they also accompany meat dishes.  My favorite hands down are black beans, but white beans hold a close second.  This is a dish I found years ago from somewhere on the internet and have adapted it to make it according to my tastes.  It is a great side dish when served with white rice (or brown rice depending on my patience and mood), but I also eat black beans and rice for lunch just as it is.

Black Beans and Rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onions (I usually use yellow or white)
1 red pepper, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 - 15 oz. can black beans with jalapenos (you can use regular if you wish, but I like the spice and flavor which the black beans get from the jalapenos)
1 teaspoon oregano
3/4 cup water
1 package goya seasoning (if you can't find this use 1/4 teaspoon dried coriander, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin)
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 cups cooked rice  (1 cup uncooked rice.)

Before you begin the beans, rinse 1 cup of uncooked rice.  Put the rice on to cook and it should be ready at about the time the black beans are ready.

In a medium pot, pour in the olive oil.  Saute the chopped onions and red pepper in the olive oil until just beginning to brown.  Add the garlic and let cook for another couple of minutes.  When it is tender, stir in remaining ingredients. (If you are using the beans with jalapenos, you can dice up some of the jalapenos to add a little spice.  I usually add 2-3, but not all of them.) Simmer for at least 10 more minutes.

Serve over white rice.

Red Quinoa and White Bean Salad with Parsley and Lemon

Quinoa has to be one of my favorite grains.  It is light and fluffy, versatile, colorful and delicious.  You can add stock when you are cooking and give it instant flavor.  You can add it to pancakes to make it healthier and heartier.  I also have a cache of white beans, mostly canned, but dried ones as well.  This salad adapted from Plenty More by Ottolenghi combines two of my always in stock items for a pleasant, easy salad.

Red Quinoa and White Bean Salad with Parsley and Lemon
2/3 cup red quinoa
1 small bunch flat leafed parsley, cut finely
4 green onions, white and green parts thinly sliced
1 can (about 15 oz.) cannellini (or other white beans), drained and rinsed
1/2 large lemon, zest the hald you are using, juice the half as well to add to salad
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and black pepper to taste

Bring a sauce pan of water to boil.  Add the quinoa and simmer for about 12-14 minutes until light and fluffy (or according to package instructions).  Drain and rinse in cold water and set aside to dry completely.  Once dry transfer quinoa to a large salad bowl.  Add the shredded parsley, green onions, beans, lemon, allspice, olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and black pepper to taste.  Stir together.  Let rest for about 5 minutes to let flavors come together.  Taste again and adjust seasonings.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Hungarian Mushroom Soup

This winter I was in the mood for soup, so I tried a few different versions of new soups.  The one I liked best and thought was also very hearty was a mushroom soup.  Then, yesterday, I was talking to a friend of mine who asked if I had ever made Hungarian Mushroom soup.  I did some research and found that I had a recipe for it, but had never made it.  In being me, I have adapted it to my tastes.  And, in case you didn't know, paprika comes from Hungary.  I was accustomed to the sweet paprika which added flavor, but no spice to recipes.  When looking in a spice shop (my favorite is Penzey's), I discovered they have spicy paprika.  I love it!  Adds the depth of regular paprika with additional spice.  With the addition of spicy paprika it added a little bite to the soup, but still retained the traditional flavor.  There are variations around the internet of this Hungarian Mushroom Soup, but this is a version after the Moosewood cookbook's version.

Hungarian Mushroom Soup
Serves: 4 starter portions

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
12 oz. cremini mushrooms (chopped, but not finely)
2 tablespoons half-sharp paprika (or half sweet and half sharp if you don;t like as much spice)
2 tablespoons freshly chopped dill
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (to taste)
3 tablespoon unsalted butter
2-3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
2 cups vegetable or beef broth
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1/2 cup sour cream
Garnish (if desired): extra dill, fresh parsley, dollop of sour cream

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a frying pan.  Saute the onions just until starting to brown.  Add the garlic, saute for another minute.  Add the mushrooms and saute for another 5 minutes until the mushroom have release their juices.  Continue over a lower heat for another 5-10 minutes.  Add the lemon juice.  Remove from heat and set aside.

In a Dutch oven over medium, add the 3 tablespoon butter.  Once melted add the flour and whisk for several minutes until the flour/butter mixture turn a caramel brown color.  Add the milk, broth, soy sauce and continue whisking until the mixture is smooth.  Whisk in the paprika, dill, salt and black pepper.  Add the mushroom mixture.  Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer for about 10 minutes.  Stir often.  Turn off heat and let cool for a couple of minute.  Add the sour cream and stir in gently (if you would like more heat you can turn it on low, but do not boil or the sour cream with curdle).   Serve hot with parsley, dill and/or a dollop of sour cream.  Very good with crusty bread.