Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Makin' muffins - Takin' bad pictures...

 I have been on a serious English muffin kick lately. Maybe it's because I'm always looking for quick fixes as I rush out the door in the morning or because the way butter melts into each little hole in the muffin, either way I'm on batch number six this month and loving every bite. However, my camera has decided to take a mental health week (or maybe two) and so I'm stuck with the limited capabilities of my cell phone  (though it does have a flash!) and I do apologize for the less then stellar photos. On that note, to the tasty stuff...

English muffins are a great bread for even a novice bread maker because they're soooooo easy. They require less time rising and proofing (they only take a few hours instead of the twelve plus hours of many other breads) and they're not baked in a super hot oven. They are actually cooked on a griddle (or in a pan if you don't have one) and then briefly finished in the over (just to make sure that the center is cooked through). These are even fun to cook with kids because they can do a lot of the work safely.


Though a stand mixer makes bread baking WAY easier, you can do it all by hand

I started out with "original" flavor (aka white flour) and they were pretty good but then I graduated to...cinnamon raisin! And that was the start of it all. These were a whole new level of good and never again would a store bought English muffin suffice. Once I had started flavoring my muffins a slough of English muffin opportunities opened up before me. Things like dried cranberries, nuts, cheese (!), herbs and even chocolate were possible flavors and I realized that I had a lot of work to do.

Though this batch was cranberry orange, the possibilities are endless...

My first dive into English muffin flavors was cranberry, orange and cinnamon. I figured if raisins and cinnamon go together well and raisins are same same but different that cranberries and cranberries go well with orange then, well, you do the math...(hint = good). I also like to pretend these are "healthy" for me by adding some white whole wheat flour (this is becoming really easy to find and it's less heavy or has less of the wheat husk, so it works well for bread).


You want to cook these while they're on the rise to make sure that you get those traditional holes

Once these are baked off and cooled - they are perfect for eating on the run, or even savoring with a hard boiled egg and some melted cheese (yes, I'm hungry as I write this). And the best thing is - you want another flavor? Only a few quick steps to get there...cheese and rosemary, here I come!


cranberry orange english muffins
adapted from Peter Reinhart's recipe

1 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour (all-purpose will do in a pinch)
1 1/2 cups whole wheat (preferably white whole wheat) flour
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp instant yeast (or 2 tsp active dry yeast, dissolved in warm water)
1 Tbsp shortening (butter, Crisco, margarine)
1/2 - 3/4 cup dried cranberries
1 Tbsp orange zest
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 to 1 cup warm (but not hot) milk or buttermilk

- Mix together flours, salt,cinnamon and sugar. Then add yeast and blend well (you need to add yeast last, in a second stirring, because the salt will kill the yeast).
- Add in the dried cranberries and orange zest, mix in thoroughly.
- add 3/4 cup of milk and mix until the dough forms a ball, adding the last 1/4 cup if there's remaining loose dough.
- knead the dough, either in a stand mixer or by hand (on a floured surface) until the dough is soft and pliable, but not sticky. The dough should be able to pass the windowpane test (if you pull the dough gently apart, you should be able to get it thin and elastic enough to see light through it).
- transfer the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
- Let rise for 60 to 90 minutes until doubled in size.
- On a floured surface, divide the dough into 8 equal pieces and shape into rounds (typical english muffin shape).
- Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper (I like to use silicone baking sheets) and sprinkle corn meal generously on it. Place the dough rounds three inches apart and let proof for another 60 to 90 minutes or until they double in size again (both outward and upward).
- Heat a griddle to 350 degrees (or you can use a skillet) and also, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- lightly grease the griddle pan. Once heated, placed the dough rounds on the griddle and cook for about 5 minutes on each side (until a medium golden color). Immediately place the muffins into the oven to make sure the centers get cooked (about 8-10 minutes).
- Cook the muffins for at least 20 minutes before enjoying.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

When like gives you apples...make apple fritters

Through a variety of surprising means, I found myself with a massive bowl of apples on the Saturday before Super Bowl. I had no specific plans for these apples and had pretty much resigned myself to cooking all 30 of them (yes, 30) down into apple sauce to freeze for later baking endeavors. I like to do this whenever my apples start to get mushy (I will not tolerate a mushy apple!) and then I freeze it by the cup in little baggies to use in baking or to serve on top of pancakes.

 A bowl of fritters - ready to go to the game...

However, on this particular Saturday I found myself in need of a dish to take to a Super Bowl party and the bowl of apples just wouldn't stop staring me down. I starting browsing through the many recipe search engines available online today and found a tempting recipe for apple fritters. These weren't your typical doughnut shop-style mountains of goo - they were simply beer-battered (this was for Super Bowl after all) slices of apples deep fried and topped with cinnamon and sugar goodness.

 a hint of citrus, cinnamon and sugar give these fritters a traditional doughnut feel

To make these little slices, you need to use a type of apple that will stay together as it cooks - Granny Smith apples are a perfect example of this, whereas Macintosh apples typically just fall apart. I also think that a light-colored beer (like a blond or IPA) is best for the beer batter as the dark ales leave a slight bitterness behind - but I may be alone on this one.

 Citrus beer batter (good for savory things like broccoli too!)

Lastly, another interesting thing about the fritters is that when they first came out of the oil and were still relatively hot they didn't have much flavor...perhaps the batter was just too overpowering or maybe not enough oil had dripped off. BUT, as they cooled down the apple flavor was much more pronounced and tasted delicious with its crispy, sugary envelope.

 Dip, fry and eat

These went down quick and were almost gone by halftime and I would recommend them as a quick and impressive dessert - especially when served with a little vanilla bean ice cream or even vanilla yogurt.

(adapted from Gourmet 2001)

individual apple fritters

makes about 48 fritters

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup light beer (such as a blonde)
1/2 tsp salt
3 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
6 cups canola oil (this is healthier for you than most oils)
3 apples (granny smiths are the preferred sort, but any firm apple will do)
juice from 1/2 a lemon
1 cup sugar (for dusting)
2 Tbsp cinnamon (for dusting)

- Peel your apples and core them
- Cut each apple into 16 equal slices, toss with lemon juice (to keep from browning)
- In a deep, medium-sized saucepan heat the oil until it reaches 375 degrees (or you can test it with some of your batter).
- While oil is heating, whisk together flour, beer, sugar, salt and zest
- Dip the apple slices in the batter and drop (but not from too far a distance as oil will splatter you) into the oil. You should be able to fit about 6-8 slices in the pot at once. But don't overcrowd because they will cook together like siamese fritters.
- Cook for about 5 minutes on one side and flip the fritters over until they are a golden brown on both sides.
- Remove the fritters from oil and place on a piece of cardboard or a stack of paper towels for dripping (this step is really important because otherwise these little guys are really oily).
- Once the fritters have cooled enough to handle coat them with the mixture of the sugar and the cinnamon.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Breakfast of Champions

One of my favorite things about the weekend is breakfast. During the week there just isn't time to enjoy anything more than cereal and milk, or, if I'm lucky, a fresh fruit smoothy. So, when Saturday roles around and I can start looking forward to crispy bacon, fluffy pancakes and perfectly fried eggs I'm one happy girl.

As I've mentioned before, we get a CSA box (Community Supported Agriculture) and so I like to incorporate those veggies into all meals of the day and breakfast is not exception. This week the box included broccoli and green onions as well as strawberries so it was a tough choice between french toast with strawberries or one of my personal favorites, potato hash. The potato hash won.

Some fresh, local AND organic product from my farm box

Usually when you get a diner-made hash the potatoes are either diced or shredded, but I like mine sliced into discs. That way the potatoes have a lot of surface area with which to collect all of the flavor. Another trick I prefer for hashes is placing a fried egg on top of the hash, so that the yolk runs down into the potatoes.

Sauteing potatoes in bacon - perfection? Pretty close!

For this week's hash I was lucky enough to have a perfect storm of ingredients that made a meal worth drooling over. I had bacon, cheese, fingerling potatoes and organic, cage free eggs. Mixing in some fresh broccoli and green onion added both color and sublime flavor.

And Voila! I could eat this breakfast everyday!

This, my friends, is the way to rock a weekend!

Sunday Morning Hash
serves 2

2-3 fingerling potatoes, sliced into 1/4 inch slices
5 slices of bacon, cut into half inch pieces
1 cup broccoli florets, cut into small pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 eggs
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
2 green onions, white and very light green segments sliced
salt and pepper to taste

- Place the potato slices in a pot of boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- Meanwhile, fry the bacon pieces until almost desired crispiness.
- Add the broccoli, potato slices and garlic and saute until the potatoes are cooked through and you start to smell the garlic.
- Serve the potato hash onto two plates, reserving some of the bacon grease that should remain at the bottom of the pan.
- Heat the bacon fat on medium high heat and crack the eggs in. Cook for one minute and flip onto the other side for another 10 seconds (you want the yolk to be runny).
- Place the eggs on top of the hash and top with shredded cheese and green onions.
- Serve immediately and enjoy the weekend!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

When it's cold outside...viva Mexico!

 It is the middle of winter and the weather is cold, well, at least as cold as it gets in Santa Barbara, and I was feeling like something a little spicy to warm up. Chicken enchiladas fit the bill perfectly and it had the added bonus of being something that I'd never made before.

Simmering enchilada sauce - so spicy!

In everything that I make, I always try and incorporate more  vegetables because once a week I get a CSA box (Community Supported Agriculture) and it's always full of organic and local produce that I need to incorporate into my culinary adventures. This week the box included spinach and cauliflower and I wanted to throw them into my fiesta fare.

Fresh spinach mixed with chicken - great twist on a standard

I decided to make the enchiladas chicken and spinach and I actually really liked the combo. It gave the dish more depth and I felt a wee bit healthier eating it too. I'm not going to include the recipe however, because I wasn't that impressed with my enchilada sauce. First of all there wasn't enough of it and second it was WAY too spicy. I think that the problem lied in my chili powder which was a bit more potent than I'd expected.

I will, however, include my mexican cauliflower recipe which was a surprising and refreshing way to use this vegetable that I eat a lot of in the wintertime. It is basically steamed or boiled cauliflower mixed with fresh pico de gallo and topped with feta. I would definitely make this again!

The onion and lime mix - made a tangy marinade for this fresh cauliflower dish


Braised Cauliflower and Fresh Salsa

1 onion, finely chopped
1 lime - both zest and juice
1 medium head cauliflower
1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 - 1 cup water
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 Fresh tomatoes, diced
1 bunch cilantro
1/2 cup feta

- Put the onion, lime zest and lime juice into a small bowl so that the juice cooks the onion
- Cut the cauliflower into small florets
- Put the can of tomatoes into a pan with the water and heat, add the sugar and salt. When they start to simmer add the cauliflower and braise for five minutes.
- Add the onion mixture and warm through - about another five minutes (if you like your cauliflower softer you might want to pre-boil it for a few minutes before adding it to the tomatoes).
- Mix the cauliflower, fresh tomatoes, cilantro and feta in a larger serving bowl and serve.