It’s the Great Pumpkin Babka Charlie Brown!

I’ve always had this idea to do a food film festival. Babette’s Feast, Eat, Drink,Man, Woman, Big Night, The Cook, the Thief, Her Lover and His Wife…(well, maybe not that last one.) The idea has evolved over the years, new movies come out like Julie and Julia, (though I’d skip the annoying Julie part and just do the Julia), or Chef, and the thing grows to a point that it gets too overwhelming to wrap my head around.

So I decided to switch to the smaller screen. And one specific cast of characters. It wasn’t that hard to choose them either. When I started looking closely, there was a wealth of culinary inspiration. “Look to the cookie, Elaine”. “No Soup for YOU!” “Big lettuce, big carrots, tomatoes like volleyballs.” “It’s chocolate, it’s peppermint, it’s delicious!” And then, there’s babka.

You just can’t beat a babka.

Now truth be told, I’ve always had babka-envy.  It was hard not to. I grew up just outside of NYC, or as it’s known by its other name, Babka-land. These magical bread-cake creatures were not something mere mortal hands could make, sitting there all smug and alluring in the bakery case. They flaunted their funky twists and turns of chocolate and buttery sweet breadness as they peeked out from under a veil of powdered sugar. No, these must be the result of the yiddish-tinged incantations of eastern european mystics. Occasionally I’d look at the instructions of some blogger or cookbook peddler who claimed they made them all by their little self, but I never really believed it. You’d obviously need three hands to cut and hold and twist and plop into pan before all that good babka stuff falls out.

Then I saw it. A recipe from Tasting Table (tastingtable.com) that was the baking equivalent of peaking behind the Wizard’s curtain. With slides! It was babka, with training wheels. Sure it wasn’t a chocolate babka, or the lesser one (cinnamon), but this babka I was going to try. And it was freakin’ awesome!

Someday soon I’ll give the lesser babka a try. But not the chocolate. Not yet. I’ve got to practice my yiddish incantations a bit more before I go for the babka big leagues….

file-oct-29-4-06-14-pm

The Great Pumpkin Babka (From tastingtable.com)

Check out this link to see the life of a babka in pictures. It makes the forming of the loaves a lot easer.

Makes 2 loaves

INGREDIENTS

For the dough:

  • 1 cup whole milk, warmed to 115° 21⁄4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1⁄4 cup, plus 1 teaspoon, granulated sugar, divided
  • 51⁄4 cups flour, plus more for dusting 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1⁄4 cup light brown sugar
  • 4 eggs, divided
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cubed and softened, plus more for greasing

For the filling:

  • One 15-ounce can pumpkin purée
  • 1⁄2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins (optional)

DIRECTIONS

1. Make the dough: In a large bowl, combine the milk, yeast and 1 teaspoon of the granulated sugar. Let it sit until it begins to foam, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt and cinnamon, and set aside.

2. To the foamy yeast mixture, add the remaining granulated sugar, the brown sugar and 3 eggs, and whisk to combine. Slowly stir in the flour until a dough forms, then transfer to a lightly floured surface. Using your hands, knead in the softened butter, a little at a time, until a smooth dough forms. Place in a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

3. Meanwhile, make the filling: In a medium bowl, stir the filling ingredients together until incorporated.

4. Assemble the babkas: Preheat the oven to 350° and grease two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans. Divide the dough into 2 balls. On a lightly floured surface, roll 1 ball of dough out into a 14-inch square, about 1⁄8inch thick.

5. Spread half of the filling evenly over the surface of the dough, leaving a 1-inch margin at the top of the square. Sprinkle with half the raisins. Starting with the edge closest to you, roll the dough up tightly. Leaving 1⁄2inch of dough connected, cut the roll lengthwise in two. Twist the strands together and pinch at the end to seal. Carefully place the babka in one of the prepared pans.

6. Repeat this process with the remaining dough and filling. Cover both babkas loosely with plastic wrap and place in a warm area until the dough expands to fill the pan, 45 minutes more.

7. In a small bowl, beat the remaining egg and liberally brush onto each babka. Bake, rotating halfway through, until golden and cooked through, 40 to 45 minutes.

8. Let cool slightly, then remove each bread from the pan and let cool before slicing and serving.

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button). You can also see what’s cookin’ on my Instagram page. Thanks! 🙂

Advertisements

Grown Up Vacation

FullSizeRenderYeah, it’s the first week of January. The first week of a new year, after weeks of holiday merriment. The week when you decide this year you’ll lose that weight, run those miles, save those pennies, hold that sharpened tongue, blah, blah, blah. The week when the mail holds not those cute/corny holiday cards filled with bad sweaters, bedecked pets and smiling babies, but the credit card aftermath. Grim reality hits, the days are gray, my mood grayer, and all I want is a vacation. But not the kind you might think. After two lovely weeks of off more than work, I’m not talking about going away geographically. I want a vacation from being a grown-up.

I was born a baby sister, and as such, spent much of my kidhood  yearning to be older. Oh to be a grown up! No bedtimes, no homework, no “not until you’re older”, no “NOs”. Well, that’s what we thought it would be until it actually happened. Sure there’s a lot to be said for being taller than the clown’s hand at the start of the ride, but in the first week of January when I’m grumpy and blue, I can’t really think of any. I want fuzzy slippers, cartoons, coloring books, and no blahs, or blues, or bills, or stupid vegetables, or yucky grown up stuff. I’m not playing…so THERE!

Of course, there’s very little chance behaving like a child is going to get me anything except a self-imposed time-out, and an even bigger pile of grown-up crap to sift through when released. But there is something I can do tonight. Tonight, I can make a culinary grown-up break and have a meal any kid would like. Tonight I can have Breakfast for Dinner. You remember what that was like. As kids we thought it was the ultimate treat! We had no idea pancakes or waffles for dinner was an easy fix for an overstressed parent. Who cared, as long as there was syrup!

Grown-ups don’t do breakfast for dinner nearly enough. I hadn’t even thought about its magical qualities until it was recently requested for the weekly dinner and a movie night. There’s nothing better to melt the heart and warm the corners of one’s soul than to be handed a pair of cozy slippers, and placed in front of a platter of bacon, eggs, chocolate chip pancakes and sweet rolls. Trust me, THIS is the best dinner party you’ll ever throw, the one that will be remembered best. You can be a grown up in the morning.

The menu for your Breakfast for Dinner Party is really up to you and how elaborate you want to go. I did cheesy scrambled eggs (eggs, cooked slow in a very generous amount of butter, with a generous handful of cheddar thrown in just before the eggs were fully set); hash browns (diced potatoes and onions generously sprinkled with salt, pepper and paprika,and sautéed in a combo of butter and olive oil until cooked through and golden brown), chocolate chip pancakes (you can use a packaged mix and add in the chips, or google Martha Stewart’s buttermilk pancakes – REALLY good recipe from scratch); and bacon (made in the oven, for the crispest bacon you can get.) All of that was swell, but the star of the table were the sweet rolls.

I first made these, Butterscotch-Glazed Cinnamon Rolls on Thanksgiving. The reaction convinced me that if I wanted to make a special someone’s son smile and react with the most glee a teenage boy can for something other than dirt bike gear, these had better be in my repertoire.

Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

Butterscotch-Glazed Cinnamon Rolls (adapted from Melissa Clark, New York Times)

Makes 18 rolls, or two pans full. I like to bake off one and freeze the other for another time.

You’ll notice that I’ve highlighted some parts of the recipe in bold type. That’s because I’ve made this a few times now, and it’s important to read the recipe carefully and section up the sugar and butter or you’ll be tempted to throw it all in with the dough. Trust me on this 🙂

  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, more as needed
  • 2 cups dark brown sugar
  • I envelope active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • About 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon bourbon (you could use apple cider, but why?)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar

In a small saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons butter. Add milk and heat until just warm to the touch (120 to 130 degrees). Pour into a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, 1/2 cup brown sugar, yeast, salt and cardamom. Slowly beat flour mixture into butter mixture using an electric mixer set with the paddle attachment. Beat in egg, then beat until dough comes together in a ball, about 3 minutes; it should be slightly tacky but not sticky. If it feels very sticky, beat in more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 2 minutes. Form into ball. Transfer to a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a dish towel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 2 to 3 hours.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt 4 tablespoons butter. Cook until the foam subsides and the butter turns a deep nut-brown; cool to room temperature.

In a small bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and a pinch of salt.

Punch down dough and roll into a rectangle about 15 inches long and 11 or 12 inches wide. Using a pastry brush, coat dough with butter, leaving a 1/2-inch border all around. Sprinkle sugar mixture evenly over butter. Starting at a long end, tightly roll up dough over filling. Arrange seam side down. Cut the dough crosswise into 18 slices (about 1/2-inch thick).

Lightly grease two 9-inch square baking pans. Transfer rolls to pan, cut side up; they will fit snugly. Cover with plastic wrap and a dish towel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees; bake rolls until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool 10 minutes.

While rolls bake, place remaining  3/4 cup brown sugar in a small saucepan. Sprinkle with bourbon and 1/4 cup water. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, and cook until sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Whisk in remaining 2 tablespoons butter until melted, whisk in vanilla, then turn off the heat and whisk in the confectioners’ sugar. Pour warm glaze evenly over the tops of the warm rolls. Let rest for at least 20 minutes before serving to allow glaze to set.

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at cookinginmyheels.com. Thanks!  🙂

 

Like Darwin’s Finches

©cookinginmyheels.com

©cookinginmyheels.com

I’m sitting here in one of the local coffee shops (of which there are several….from my window perch I can view another three over a two block span,) fascinated by a beetle walking up the window. Ok, some of you are doubtless thinking “she’s sitting in a restaurant watching a bug walk by and is NOT; 1. Shrieking and waving something squish-ready at said bug, or B.  Alerting the authorities of A BUG!  Nope, I’m not, for two reasons: first, the bug is more of the interesting than icky variety (and as an ex-biologist, I have a higher ‘ick’ tolerance than most); second, the bug has provided an interesting example for today’s blog musings. (NOTE: I feel it necessary to let you know that as I typed the above, the beetle in question began to join me on my table, and didn’t seem at all phased that I dispatched him back to his window with a gentle flick.)

The point of all this entomology? As this critter was wandering up the window, he fell off. Being determined, he began his upward journey again. And again. And, again. These Sisyphean efforts aside, what was interesting was every time the guy fell, he landed on his feet. No lying on back all legs-a-wiggle helplessness. Just dogged persistence. Seems Ringo (I’ve named him that, for obvious reasons) and his folk have adapted to a shape that always lands on its feet. Dripping metaphor aside, I kind of hope I’m the same way. Actually, I’m counting on it, or to stick with the buggy theme, squishing is inevitable.

A year ago, it wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary to look into a coffee shop window on a Sunday and see me tapping away at my keyboard. Of course, my view back then was considerably different from today. The volume of everything was much greater. The people, sound, vehicles, everything multiplied at least tenfold. And it’s likely I’d have barely noticed. However, take that same keyboard-tapping gal and plop her down into small town Pacific Northwest, and I notice everything. Admittedly, it was a little jarring at first. The lack of noise made every sound louder. Lessen the number of feet on pavement and every foot is more noticeable. The types and varieties of gear, or coffee, or wine and beer — ridiculously plentiful and totally overwhelming. And Subarus. The only thing comparable in NYC to seeing so many of one type of car in so few square miles is the taxi line in front of the Garden after a Knicks game.

But like Darwin’s finches, one adapts over time. I find “awesome” coming out of my mouth more and more. Polar fleece usage is definitely up, I know what a growler is, and I’ve stopped running outside to take pictures of rainbows every time I see one, (only running out every third time now…) And hopefully, somewhere along the way, I’ve started to land on my feet too.

photo 1OK, so I know I’m pretty good at assimilating into a new landscape, there is one thing I will never adapt to…the local pizza. While I give points to a sincere effort in certain venues, for a decent back-home slice my search has turned up nada. I admit I’m a pizza snob, but anyone who grew up in the NY metro area would be. And even though they do so many things really well here,  pizza (and bagels) isn’t among them, so I thought it high time to take matters into my own hands.

Homemade pizza can seem daunting (there’s yeast involved), but it really isn’t all that difficult, especially if you find a good recipe. And what you put on it is entirely subjective to the dough thrower’s taste. I knew there was no knead (sorry) to reinvent the wheel here, so what I’ve done is take my favorite dough recipe (from Stanley Tucci) and my favorite sauce recipe (a combination of Lidia Bastianich’s and Jim Lahey’s), and adapt both to what I like. The dough recipe below is enough for two 12” round pies, or one round and one 9×13” rectangle. This dough freezes really well, and as far as the toppings, I’ve given you the basic margherita pie. Think of it as a jumping off point and evolve away!

Pizza (Without the Box)

This is the basic Margherita Pizza – in other words, just sauce and cheese. However, that doesn’t mean you can load it up with other stuff on top. Just remember one basic rule – less is more. Too much on top and it’s likely all that goodness will land on your lap when you pick up a slice.

Pizza Dough (From The Tucci Cookbook by Stanley Tucci, 2012)

Makes enough dough for 2 12” round or 9×13” rectangle pies

This is Stanley Tucci’s grandmother Tropiano’s pizza dough recipe, which is one of the reasons I love it. The other is it’s a terrific and very reliable basic dough. I did this all by hand just like grandma, but you could just as easily do it in a standing mixer with dough hook attachment.

  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 2 cups warm water (you may not need it all)
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 TBSP kosher salt
  • 2-3 TBSP cornmeal (fine ground is best)
  • 2 TBSP olive oil

In a measuring cup combine the yeast with ½ cup of the warm water. Stir until yeast dissolves.

In a large bowl (or bowl of mixer), combine the flour and salt. Make a well in the center and add the yeast mixture. Begin by mixing with a fork and then by hand while adding enough of the remaining 1 ½ cups water to form a soft, dry dough. *  (*Don’t add in all the water at once. Add half, and then more as you are mixing.)

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and continue mixing it with your hands. Knead to form smooth dough, adding more flour as necessary to keep the dough from being too sticky. Form into a ball and place in a clean bowl. Cover the bowl loosely with a clean dishtowel and set aside in a warm, draft-free place to rise until doubled – about 2 hours.

When the dough is risen, preheat oven to 500°F.

Divide the risen dough in half. (If you wanted to freeze half, wrap well in oiled cling wrap, then put in freezer bag.) Roll one half of the dough on a lightly floured surface into a round or rectangle (depending on what pan you have.)  Sprinkle the pan with a tablespoon of the cornmeal, then transfer dough to baking sheet.photo 2

The Sauce:

Some folks like to use a cooked sauce for pizza, but since the sauce is going to cook on the pizza, I prefer to do a simple raw sauce for the best tomato punch. You could substitute the same amount of your favorite basic sauce if you prefer.

  • 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes (use the best ones you can find – there isn’t much to the sauce but really good tomatoes, salt and olive oil. And if good fresh tomatoes are available, use those!)
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp olive oil, plus 1-2 TBSP more for drizzling 

Drain the tomatoes, saving the juices. For each pie, measure out 1/3 cup drained tomatoes and 3 tbsp juice (you want a total of 5 oz.). Add 1/8 tsp salt and ¼ tsp olive oil. Stir and set aside.

The Cheese: (per pizza)photo 3

  • 2 ½ ounces shredded mozzarella (I love a combination of 2 oz. mozzarella or fontina, and a ½ oz. gruyere)
  • 1 TBSP grated pecorino romano  

Putting it all together: 

The biggest mistake when making homemade pizza is too much sauce on the dough. It gets soggy and bottom doesn’t crisp nicely, or gets way too heavy and molten sauce and cheese slide off and onto your lap when you pick up a slice. That’s why only 5 ounces of the tomato mixture is all you need. You’ll also notice I don’t use any oregano or garlic. That doesn’t mean you can’t. If you want to add both, just sprinkle a pinch of oregano over the sauce, and as much minced garlic as you like before adding the cheese.

For each pie: 

Drizzle the dough with 1 TBSP of olive oil. Spread the 5 oz. of sauce on the dough, leaving an inch all around the edges. Sprinkle the mozzarella on top, then the romano.

photo 4Bake until the edges and bottom are lightly browned, about 12-15 minutes depending on your oven. Let sit 5 minutes before cutting and serving.  And for an authentic NY slice, have extra romano cheese and dried red pepper flakes on the side for sprinkling on top. Calories: about 200 per slice, based on 6 slices per pie.

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at cookinginmyheels.com. Thanks! 🙂

 

 

Shades of Gray

©cookinginmyheels.com

©cookinginmyheels.com

Before you get too excited, I’m talking about sky-gray, not numerous shades of other activities. It’s been about 4 months now since shoes and I moved from right coast to left, so I think it’s time to talk about the weather.

When you tell most people who don’t live in the pacific northwest that you’re are moving to the pacific northwest, usually the first thing they say is “it rains a lot there.” Well yes, it does. And yes, it’s something I’ll be getting used to as my time here moves from weeks to months and likely longer. So let’s talk about the big gray elephant-shaped cloud in the room. First of all, fact is over the course of a year there is more rainfall in NYC than in Oregon. Of course in Gotham that rain usually happens all at once. Here the quantity of raindrop is less, but the number of days the little darlings make an appearance is more. Much more. And yes, at certain times of the year it will feel like that rain is every day. So one thing I know is I’d best figure out ways to deal with it

Many of you know I’m an avid wanderer. When you live in the city, it’s called going for a walk. Here, it’s called hiking, and I like to hike… a lot. So now that I live in a place known for its moisture-filled climate, you might think my wanderlust would be curbed a bit. I mean, going for a walk in the rain wouldn’t be called a pleasant experience by most city dwellers. Between jousting with umbrellas, leaping puddles of dubious size (and depth) and the occasional geyser spray of curb-close cabs, it’s not exactly something one would choose to do for enjoyment. However here, I discovered, it’s been just the opposite.  A little wet weather from overhead doesn’t mean you don’t go out and play. Maybe it’s just foggy, or misting, or lightly raining, or (my personal favorite) downpour through sunshine, but live in a place like this and you quickly learn to just go with it. As they say here, if you don’t like the weather, just wait 15 minutes and it’ll change. Our weather is very democratic and there’s a little slice of climate for every taste. Look up and the sky is a sea of matte gray. Look again it’s dark slate, then bits of blue, maybe some pink, and then it’s sunny while pouring, simultaneously. Here skies here have a sense of style, and a sense of humor. They seem to know the exact moment you’ve geared up with wellies and slicker and headed out the door, into bright sunshine. Or they wait until you’ve gotten your hair ‘just-so’ and have started walking to your car before they open, and then watch as freshly painted face runs down chin. Go ahead, check the weather channel; it’s not going to matter. Any forecast here is a crap-shoot.

By now you’re probably wondering why would anyone want to pick up a life and relocate it to the rainforest (and rain-mountain and rain-orchard). I confess I had that thought myself before I got here. But once I landed I began to see a lot more than just another rainy day. I saw the many shades of gray, and the stunning colors surrounding it. Every artist knows things look better on white or lightly gray walls, so imagine what a spectacular forest or autumn tinged orchard looks like against a gray sky. Ambers become deeper, yellows brighter, greens, well, greener. It’s a beautiful view, shine or rain.

2013-11-12 09.04.17

And if you think all this drippy sentiment is just making excuses for living in a place known for dreary weather, here’s one last thing to consider. Following all that rain you get a lot of these…. Not a bad trade-off for all that gray, is it?

©cookinginmyheels.com

©cookinginmyheels.com

When the weather is gray I look for color in the kitchen. 2013-11-12 13.06.15This week that color was the sunny orange of a butternut squash. But rather than just roasting, or stuffing, or making into a creamy soup, I decided to top pizza with it. The dough and technique are from Jim Lahey’s Bread Book, and I coupled it with an idea or two from Nathan, our amazing bread whisperer/chef at the bakery. Pizza con zucca (Butternut Pizza) makes a great appetizer, lunch, or dinner. And just top with a sunny poached egg for a weekend breakfast treat guaranteed to brighten up even the grayest day.

2013-11-12 13.42.12

Pizza con la zucca (Butternut Pizza)

Makes one 12 x 17” Pizza

  • ½ recipe pizza dough (from Neighbors)
  • 1 tsp roughly chopped sage
  • 1 cup arugula
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 ¼ lbs butternut squash, sliced 1/8” thick on a mandolin
  • 3-4 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 oz piece of parmesan
  • Salt and pepper
  • Good balsamic vinegar or balsamic crema for drizzling

Preheat oven to 500°F. Prepare the pizza dough according to the recipe and set aside while you prepare the topping.

Toss the slices of butternut squash in a bowl with 1 TBSP olive oil, 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper. In a separate bowl, toss the arugula with 1 TBSP olive oil, 1 tsp balsamic vinegar and a pinch of salt and pepper. Add the arugula to the squash slices and toss well to combine.

Rub 1 TBSP olive oil on 12”x17” sheet pan (or 13”x18”). Pick up the pizza dough and stretch to the length of the baking sheet. Using your palms, gently pull, press, and stretch the dough to fill the entire bottom of the pan. Be patient, it will get there. I find it’s easier to press out if I oil my hands with a little olive oil rather than flour them, but both work. You don’t need to make a crust up the sides of the pan, just fill it.

Scatter the squash and arugula over the pizza dough. Put a little more filling along the edges (the edges brown faster). Sprinkle with the chopped sage. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of oil over, and a pinch of salt and a grind or two of pepper. Finally, shave some parmesan over using a vegetable peeler. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the crust and squash is browned. Drizzle a little more good balsamic or if you have it, balsamic crema over top and serve immediately. Calories: about 195 per slice (8 slices per pizza).

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button). Thanks! 🙂

You’ll Give Me WHAT?!

There are few things more ego leveling than selling your stuff. Sure, applying for job after job (after job) with nary a nibble is rough, and writing what you think is a compelling online dating profile then getting very few pings can be painful. But those are child’s play compared to pricing your beloved possessions and then having a cheeky bargain hunter offer a tenth of the price you agonized over, prefacing it with a snotty “I’ll take it off your hands for this meager bag of peanuts, missy.” Anyone who has gone through the process of a moving sale knows exactly what I’m talking about. That “perfect for that spot” sectional that lovingly cradles your tuchas like a giant micro suede hug just won’t fit into the cute cottage you’re renting 3,000 miles away. And so you list it with Craig, hoping to find it a good home in exchange for fuel and roadside food funds.

I’m not sure why the act of selling a sofa would have such an effect, but it did. Perhaps the ordeal of purchasing the item in the first place is the reason. It’s different from when you first move out on your own, and the entirety of your décor had Swedish names and was assembled with an allen wrench. There’s a built-in expiration date on that stuff as you move past the “dorm-room décor” phase. But when you’ve reached a certain age and level of decorating and bankbook maturity, furniture buying rises to a higher level. The process becomes far more elaborate as does emotional attachment. First you tear pictures from catalogs, then surf on-line in an attempt to narrow down candidates. This, plus polling potential sitters on your selected options is necessary before you can move onto the “sit-testing” stage. And merely sitting on a sofa is never enough. First you sit, then you stretch out the legs, perhaps a “flop on couch” test to determine strength, and finally assume a napping position. This is an investment in comfort, and all of the variations of that must be explored before plastic comes out of wallet. So after going through all that, then adopting one and living on it in snuggly comfort for 7 years, having someone dare suggest they’d take it off my hands for cheap is like tossing an icy glass of water in the puss.

Tomorrow I start setting up appointments for potential parents for my couch. Luckily, there are several who seem appropriately enamored with my beige comfy friend. So what about that bargain hunter? Well, I’ve saved their contact info too, just in case. After all, it is just a couch…

©cookinginmyheels.com

©cookinginmyheels.com

This past week I’ve been dog sitting at my mom’s house while she’s away. Since it’s been a string of rainy days, I thought I’d raid her recipe box and finally copy down those recipes that remind me of family. And as it’s Mother’s Day weekend too, the first one I tried was Schnecken, perfect for breakfast, brunch or afternoon tea for mom’s and non-moms alike. “Schnecken” literally means snail in German, and some awfully tasty pastry snails they are! What I like the best about these is that they are not over-the-top goopy sweet and sticky, but just the right amount of yeasty dough, sugar, cinnamon, nuts and a touch of citrus glaze. If your preference of breakfast pastry runs to the more outrageous sugar-bomb side, I’m sure there are many wonderful recipes available online.

Schnecken

Makes a baker’s dozen (13), which means you can make a dozen to share, and still have one leftover for that cup of coffee you just made…

For the dough

  • 1 package yeast
  • 2/3 cup warm milk
  • 2 TBSP sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup very soft butter
  • 2 cups sifted flour, plus a little extra if needed
  • 1 large orange, zested and cut in half (you’ll need about 2 ½ tsp zest total)

For the filling

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 TBSP cinnamon
  • ½ cup seedless raisins + 1/3 cup orange juice (from the zested orange)
  • ½ cup chopped almonds or walnuts
  • 2 TBSP melted butter

For the glaze

  • Juice from ½ an orange, and ¼ lemon
  • ½ tsp orange zest
  • ½ cup + 1 TBSP powdered sugar
  • Pinch salt

Making the dough:  I suppose you could make this in a mixer, but I actually like doing it by hand. It doesn’t require a ton of kneading, just 2 or 3 minutes and I feel like I’m exercising (and can therefore have a second schnecken with mid morning coffee…)

Warm the milk in the microwave for about a minute. It should be quite warm but not so hot that you couldn’t stick a finger in it. Sprinkle the yeast over the warm milk and let sit a minute and start to dissolve, then mix in. Whisk in the sugar, salt, 1 teaspoon orange zest and softened butter. Switch to a wooden spoon and add in 1 cup of the flour and mix well. Once the first cup of flour is incorporated, add in the second and mix. At this point I usually ditch the spoon and mix it with my hands, first in the bowl then on a floured work surface.

Knead the dough for about 2-3 minutes until it is smooth and not sticky. Depending upon weather and how damp or dry your kitchen, you may need to add up to a cup more flour. Start with an extra tablespoon or two and go from there. You can always add more flour, but you can’t take it away.

Form the dough into a ball and put in a buttered bowl, turning once so both sides gets a little butter on it. Cover bowl with a piece of cling wrap or a clean damp towel and set aside in a warm spot away from drafts. Let rise until doubled, about 35-45 minutes. While the dough is rising prepare the filling.

Add the juice from half the orange to the raisins and microwave for 45 seconds. Set aside to steep. In a measuring cup or small bowl, mix the cup sugar, cinnamon, chopped nuts and 1 tsp orange zest together. Set aside until the dough is ready.

Once the dough has risen to double, punch down and knead on a floured surface about a minute. Cover with cling wrap and let rest 10-15 minutes. (Rolling out right after you knead guarantees you’ll wrestle with a dough that just wants to pop back to it’s original shape.)

Butter a sided cookie sheet or line it with parchment and butter the paper. After the dough has rested, roll out to a rectangle about 18”x 13 (just a little bigger than sided cookie sheet). Brush the dough with 2 TBSP melted butter. Drain any juice from the raisins (there likely won’t be any), and mix the raisins into the cinnamon/sugar/nuts mixture. Spread the filling over the dough evenly to just a little short of the edge.

With the long size facing you, roll up the dough like a jellyroll, pinching the dough together when you get to the edge. Slice the roll into about 1”inch slices. Place the slices on the cookies sheet, spacing out evenly so there’s space between them to rise. Cover with cling wrap and let rise another 35 minutes till doubled.

Preheat oven to 350°F. When the schnecken have finished the second rise, bake for 20 minutes, rotating pan after 10 minutes.

Prepare the glaze by mixing juice from other half of orange plus 1 tsp lemon juice, ½ tsp orange zest, a pinch of salt and 1 cup + 1TBSP powdered sugar. Stir until the sugar is melted. When the schnecken come out of the oven, drizzle each with a tablespoon of the glaze. Brew up the coffee and Guten Appetit! Calories: About 275 per schnecken.

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button). Thanks! 🙂

The Pursuit of Like

It’s the cyber-equivalent of the gold star on your spelling test in the 4th grade. And despite what we who choose to put our musing out there in the inter-space for inspection might say about doing it for ourselves, or to educate, or spread the word, we’d be lying if we didn’t admit we do it for the like, too. Or rather, for “a like”. We are in fact, suckers for the “Like”. You know what I mean. That little button you click, or thumbs-up that goes from lonely gray to happy blue the minute you touch it. Everyone likes to be LIKED.

I hope I’m not shocking you out there or ticking off my fellow bloggers, but when you really get down to it, much of what we do is in the pursuit of LIKE. If that weren’t the case, those programmy people wouldn’t have invented the button. Just like the blinky red light on your answering machine, getting liked is a sign that somebody out there noticed and even better, thought it was pretty good. And just like coming home and seeing an unblinking red eye of loneliness staring at you when nobody called, bloggers can feel like the last kid left standing when teams are picked if the site-hit counter says zero. That’s when the luring begins.

Because we are writers and hopefully somewhat creative, we can get pretty crafty when enticing you to click into our world. Naturally, our first attack is to actually present something that is well written, interesting, maybe even insightful. That’s the goal at least. But everyone falls a little short once in a while, and I suspect I’m not the only one who has resorted to the cheap come-on here and there. Like mentioning a celebrity, whether relevant to the topic or not (as in my many mentions of Mr. Clooney.) Tapping into the current hot tabloid news topic works on occasion too, especially if it’s something a search engine will pick up on and draw the unsuspecting reader in. Going for the laugh works too, something I admit I’m guilty of, a lot. And then there are the pictures. Some folks really do visit purely for the pictures. Unfortunately I discovered this one day when I noticed a large jump in hits only on the pictures on my site, and realized innocently posting pictures of high heels with the food can draw, how shall I put this, shoe “enthusiast” too.

Ultimately the best way to the “like” is to post something you all actually do, so I’ll keep trying my best. And if you think the whole point of this post is to garner an extra like or two, well, I always knew I had the smartest readers. 😉

©cookinginmyheels.com

©cookinginmyheels.com

This week the world watched as one of the biggest contests to get a “like” happened in a beautifully painted chapel in the Vatican. So in honor of the passing of the red shoes to a new wearer and give a nod to the homeland of the old, I’m sharing a recipe for Pretzel Rolls adapted from one I clipped out of Bon Appétit years ago. These are surprisingly easy to make and guaranteed to please. After all, everyone likes a good pretzel.

Pretzel Rolls (Adapted from Bon Appétit)

Makes 8 rolls

I know that yeast baking intimidates a lot of folk, but I have to say these are really easy to make for a few reasons: you don’t have to proof the yeast, just add to the dry ingredients, and you let the food processor do the kneading. The step of boiling them first (the same technique used in making bagels) gives them the wonderfully chewy crust and mahogany color of soft pretzels, and bit of celery seed adds that distinct old world flavor. I like to make half round, the other half long like hot dog buns -there’s nothing better wrapped around a hot dog or brat!

  • 2 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 envelope quick-rising yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon celery seeds
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons hot water (the original recipe says 125°F to 130°F, which is just a little too hot to keep a finger in more than a second or two.)
  • Cornmeal
  • 10-12 cups water
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 egg and a teaspoon or two of water, beaten to make an egg-wash
  • Coarse salt (if you want to substitute sesame seeds or something else other than salt, up the salt in the dough to 1½ tsp.)

Combine flour, yeast, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon sugar and celery seeds in food processor and blend. With machine running, gradually pour hot water through feed tube, adding enough water to form smooth elastic dough. Process 1 minute to knead. Grease medium bowl. Add dough to bowl, turning to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then towel; let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 35-45 minutes.

Line two baking sheets with parchment. Flour one sheet and sprinkle cornmeal on the other. Punch dough down and knead a few turns on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Divide into 8 pieces and form each dough piece into a ball or baton. Place shaped dough on the floured sheet, leaving a little space (about an inch) between. Using a serrated knife cut an X in the top center of each dough ball. If you made batons, cut two parallel slits in the top of each. Cover with towel and let dough rise until almost doubled in volume, about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Bring 10-12 cups water to boil in large saucepan. Add baking soda and 2 tablespoons sugar (water will foam up). Add a few rolls and cook 30 seconds per side. Using a slotted spoon, transfer rolls to sheet with cornmeal, arranging X side up. Repeat with remaining rolls, making sure they have about an inch between.

Brush rolls with egg glaze and sprinkle generously with coarse salt. Bake rolls until brown, about 25 minutes. Transfer to racks and cool 10 minutes. Serve rolls warm or room temperature. These are best a little warm, but you can prepared ahead and easily rewarm in a 375°F oven 10 minutes. You can also freeze them, and reheat after they have thawed. Calories: about 150 per pretzel roll.

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button). Thanks! 🙂

My Non-Flat Stanley

I live in a city where running into a celebrity is a relatively common occurrence. Between the amount of filming that goes on here, and the number of celebrities living here, you can’t help it. Usually it’s an unplanned event – you see them in the neighborhood market, trying to live as normally as possible for someone whose job qualifies them for celeb status. I’ve seen Sam Waterston at the butcher, had a lengthy chat with Mario Cantone (Charlotte’s best gay friend for those Sex in the City fans out there) in the produce aisle, and even had my car “relocated” twice because they were shooting scenes for “Law and Order” on my block. Luckily I got to see Chris Noth for my trouble.

When the unexpected celebrity encounter happens to the average New Yorker, the common stance is to adopt an “I’m way too cool to make a fuss” demeanor, occasionally ignoring them outright. I was once in a jury pool sitting next to Tim Robbins, and did nothing until he started the conversation. To be fair, my nose was in a book and honestly didn’t notice him until he asked if he could borrow a pen. Celebs are just like us, (well, like us sans the fame and fortune thing), and I think entitled to be treated like any other average joe in the coffee line. Occasionally I might smile, maybe make a comment appropriate to the setting (“the lamb chops look really good today”), but behave like a goofy celeb-struck gusher? Never!

The other day I was in a shop that was hosting a cookbook signing. This was no random encounter, but rather an event I’d marked in my calendar the minute I saw the flyer in the shop window. Normally I don’t go to book signings, the thought of standing on long lines waiting for a generic comment addressed to my name not all that thrilling. But this was different. The author of this cookbook was Stanley Tucci. MY Stanley Tucci! I’ve been crushing on Stanley ever since seeing him in one of my favorite foodie movies, “Big Night”.  The minute his Secondo uttered the line “sometimes the spaghetti, it likes to be alone,” I was hooked. I’d watch anything he’s in, be it hit or dog, because my non-flat Stanley would always shine. So there I was on line with all the Tucci-philes, passing the time reading his wonderful new cookbook and musing on the witty things I’ll say, one cook to another, all with the right amount of uber-cool New York attitude. When my turn came I stepped up to the table and handed over my book. “Karin” I squeaked, then proceeded to blush, gush, and babble as if I was 14 and meeting Bobby Sherman with a rumpled copy of Tiger Beat in my hand.

Oh well…I’m sure I’ll be cooler next time.

©cookinginmyheels.com

©cookinginmyheels.com

The Tucci Cookbook is a collection of my favorite kind of recipes – those passed down in a family. I have a feeling I’ll be making just about all of them eventually (including the infamous Timpano from “Big Night”), but the one I chose to try first is the thin crispy breadsticks so often found in authentic Italian restaurants called Grissini.  Whenever I see these in a breadbasket I dive in, but always thought they were out of my reach to make at home. Then I read the book and learned the trick. The yeast dough, flavored by an ample amount of olive oil and a bit of rosemary, is rolled out and cut into uniform sticks using a pasta maker! In my mind, this is the mark of true genius that comes from the practical home cook. And it’s fun too!

Rosemary Grissini

From The Tucci Cookbook by Stanley Tucci, 2012 Simon and Schuster

For those of you that bought a pasta maker but rarely ever use it – give this recipe a try. Once you’ve tasted these I bet you find a reason to put that unused pasta maker in a more accessible place. And if you don’t have a machine, you can also roll out the dough with a rolling pin and cut by hand. I’m sure they’ll taste equally as wonderful.

  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 1 TBSP sugar
  • 1 TBSP kosher salt
  • 1 1/3 cups warm water
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup semolina flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 TBSP finely chopped rosemary
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp grappa or vodka

Mix the yeast and sugar in a 2-cup measure. Stir in the warm water and set aside for 5 minutes until nice and foamy.

In a large bowl or on a clean work surface, mix the flour, semolina, salt and rosemary together. Mound the mixture, then make a well in the center. Add the olive oil and grappa or vodka to the yeast, stir a few times, then pour the liquid into the well. Using a fork at first and then your hands, gradually blend the flour mixture into the wet ingredients. Once you’ve got a rough dough, turn it out onto a floured board and knead until smooth and not sticky. This shouldn’t take more than 3 minutes or so. Place the dough in a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a clean dishtowel. Set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Dust two baking sheets with semolina flour and set aside. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and cut into six equal pieces. At this point you could freeze some of the pieces to make at a later time. Just wrap them well in cling film and pop in a zip top bag in the freezer.

Lightly flour the dough and pass it through the widest opening of the machine to produce a flat piece of dough about 12-inches long. Lightly flour the dough again and pass it through the wide noodle setting to create individual strands of dough. Arrange them about ½-inch apart on the prepared pans. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Bake until they start to become golden brown on the bottom, about 5-6 minutes, then flip them over and cook another 5-6 minutes. I found I needed to bake, flip, bake, flip and bake again for a total of about 12 minutes. Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn.

Cool on a rack and store cooled grissini in an airtight container. When serving, I like to put bunches into tall glasses around the table so everyone has a few within reach. Calories: about 120 calories/dozen.

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button). Thanks! 🙂

A Superbowl to Remember

This Sunday is the Superbowl. Unless you’ve been living under a rock or in some remote corner of the globe, and even if you couldn’t give a rat’s fanny about football and the fuss surrounding, you know this. I’ve never been a big follower of football, but I always look forward to watching the Superbowl. Why? My reason is the same as most non-footballers….the commercials. At least that was my reason until 5 years ago, which was when I started to actually pay attention to what was going on between the commercial breaks. What was the catalyst for this sudden gridiron interest after decades of not giving a crap? A man. Specifically, one who followed his hometown teams with rabid fervor, and vehemently despised every team in mine. How could I possibly be attracted to such a fellow? Well, he was actually a very sweet guy when none of his teams happened to be playing. Problem was one of his hometown teams was always playing. Bigger problem was that hometown was Boston. And as most everyone knows, there’s never been any love lost between the fans of NY and Boston.

My loyalties run blue when it comes to competitions. Blue pinstripes, Big Blue jerseys, Blue States. And as far as sports teams go, my passions tend to be confined to my beloved Yankees. Football? Sure I’ll watch the Superbowl annually, and if forced to choose during the season, I’ll go Giants over Jets, though rarely paid any particular attention to the action on the field. Now just imagine being in a relationship with someone downright psychotic about it. Certainly that could pose a few challenges right off the bat. Factor in the geographic undesirability of not liviing in the same region, and it’s fair to say this pairing was likely going to be an uphill climb. Yet we were both clearly smitten when we met and both willing to leap. He even took pride in the fact that he had never ever dated a Yankee fan, the last two words said with an inflection of loathing befitting someone who bleeds Red Sox red. But me, well apparently I was worth it to him.

It was fun for a while but after a few months the end looked inevitable. Oddly enough, the downhill course of the relationship seemed in lockstep with that year’s football season. Whether our teams contributed at all to our relationship’s demise is doubtful, but on that particular Superbowl Sunday, well, maybe. I know for sure over the course of the game my sorrow lessened regarding our ending. You see, that year was the first time the Giants (my team) met the Patriots (his) in the Superbowl. Luckily for both of us, we were watching the game in our separate cities. Luckily for me, the Giants won. My guys were the underdogs, winning from a wild card spot and facing a team that seemed destined to pummel them flat. Which served to escalate the trash talk from my future non-boyfriend. It definitely helps lessen the blow when the impending ex acts like a colossal ass shortly before the breakup. I highly recommend it for one’s heartbreak resilience. So as my Big Blue moved closer and closer to victory, my mood brightened, my smile grew, I knew I was going to be just fine, and this would be a Superbowl to remember. And ever since then, I like watching the game, too.

©cookinginmyheels.com

©cookinginmyheels.com

While I love all the wonderful food associated with most Super game-watching activities, I thought I’d like to go in a little less caloric direction with my snacks this year. Though certainly not “diet food” (a stupid term in my book), my Crispy Rosemary Crackers and Garlicky Cannellini Bean Dip are a little healthier than the average calorie-laden fare, and make a nice balanced alternative between bites of spicy wings and nachos.

Crispy Rosemary Crackers

(Inspired by a recipe from Gourmet Magazine)

These are a terrific addition to any Superbowl feast, a great “carrier” for my Garlicky Cannellini Bean Dip (recipe follows after crackers), and pretty darn good any other time too. The recipe makes three 10” flatbreads, which can be broken up into various sized shards, or scored before baking (like I did) to get somewhat more uniform-sized pieces.

  • 1 ¾ cups flour
  • 1 TBSP finely chopped rosemary
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ¾ tsp kosher salt
  • 1 TBSP grated lemon zest
  • ½ cup water
  • 3 TBSP olive oil (2 for the dough, and 1 for brushing before it goes in the oven)
  • Flaky sea salt for sprinkling on top – I use Maldon but if you can’t find it any coarse sea salt works well.

Place a heavy-bottomed baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven, and preheat to 450ºF.

Whisk together flour, kosher salt, baking powder, rosemary and lemon zest in a bowl. Make a well in the middle and pour in the water and 2 TBSP of the olive oil. Mix together with a spoon or your hands to form a ball. Knead a few times; divide the dough into 3 small disks and cover with plastic wrap so they don’t dry out.

Take a sheet of parchment paper about the size of your pan (doesn’t have to be exact) and roll one of the disks very thin so it makes about a 10-inch or so round. Put the remaining tablespoon olive oil in a small bowl or dish. Brush the dough with the oil. If you want to make more uniform crackers, score the disk with the back of a bread knife or ravioli cutter into square-ish pieces. Sprinkle with sea salt. Carefully take the hot baking sheet out of the oven, place the parchment on it and return to oven.

Bake for 4-5 minutes, spin the pan and bake another 4-5 minutes until the dough has browned a little around the edges and on any bubbles that have formed in the dough – you don’t want these dark brown. Slide off the parchment and onto a cooling rack. Repeat with the two remaining dough disks, using a clean sheet of parchment for each. When the large cracker is cool, break into pieces along score lines, or however it wants to break.

After the last bread has come from the oven, turn oven off, but leave the pan in. When all the crackers have been broken into pieces, spread them evenly on the baking sheet, put back in cooling oven and leave them for about a half hour so they dry out. This guarantees the crackers are crispy but don’t overcook and burn.

Store in an airtight container – Can be made up to 2 days ahead. Calories: about 105 per ounce, which is around 5-7 crackers, depending on size.

Garlicky Cannellini Bean Dip

Makes about 2 cups

Great with the crackers above, chips, crudités or spread on crusty bread with a drizzle of good olive oil and squeeze of lemon. It’s also pretty good for you, lower in fat, higher in protein and good carbs and more than a third fewer calories than everyone’s favorite sour cream and onion soup mix combo.

  • 1 Can Cannellini Beans
  • 1 TBSP grated lemon zest
  • 1 ½ tsp chopped rosemary
  • 1 small garlic clove, grated (about ½ tsp) — If you grate garlic it’s MUCH more pungent so go easy
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • 2 TBSP good olive oil (this is a great place to use a flavorful oil, since it won’t get cooked)
  • 1 ½ TBSP lemon juice
  • 1 small pinch red pepper flakes (about 1/8 tsp)
  • 1/3 cup fat-free Greek yogurt

Drain the beans over a bowl so you have a little of the liquid if you need to thin the dip later. Add the beans and the rest of the ingredients except the yogurt into the bowl of a food processor and zap until smooth. Pour into a bowl and stir in the yogurt. Cover and stow in the fridge for at least an hour to let the flavors combine. You could easily make this a day ahead of when you are planning to serve.

To serve, let the dip come to room temperature, then taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with a drizzle of flavorful olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. Calories: 620 total, or about 80 calories per ¼ cup.

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button). Thanks! 🙂

Cozy as Toast

©cookinginmyheels.com

©cookinginmyheels.com

The phrase “comfort food” gets tossed around a lot these days. I suppose that’s because in the often-discomforting world we live in, we are all seeking some sort of escape, someone or failing that something to provide a little comfort. Hence the preponderance of menus, books, articles and restaurants featuring comfort food. Truth is, for a “foodie” (a term, like “comfort food” I am tiring of quickly), all food is comfort food. We are not the “food is fuel” crowd. We are the ones who wake up with thoughts of what’s for breakfast. We seek out food labeled “comfort” too, but what exactly that is varies as much as the one searching. The food one looks to for consolation is very subjective. To generalize it to a specific menu, though happening more and more these days, seems awfully silly to me. I mean, one gal’s mashed potatoes and meatloaf is another’s aloo gobi or pad thai or Cincinnati chili, right? The point is the comfort, something that the moment it passes your lips makes you feel instantly better, emotionally warmed, and cozy.

There are many items on my personal cozy food list, but the number one spot is actually the simplest. It’s toast. Truly. I LOVE toast. A piece of crispy warm bread spread with butter, honey, jam, a soft ripe cheese, or even just sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar is my absolute favorite comfort food. Sometimes all it takes is a whiff of that epicurean cure to salve the wounds of a crappy, crazy day. Pretty funny for a person who spends a good deal of her time thinking of, playing with and writing about food, huh? A simple piece of good bread (occasionally so-so bread), toasted golden and crispy and I’m a happy gal. There’s just something about it that says comfort to me. I have no idea how it started, but I think I’ve always felt this way. Maybe it’s because tea and toast was the meal served when I was little and not feeling well. Maybe it’s the wonderful smell, followed by the crunch and just a little warm tenderness underneath that does the trick. Whatever it is, it works. I think someone should come up with scented candles that smell of toast. Or pump toasty smells through the air vents in offices. Just imagine that stress-filled office when the scent wafts down, and head after head pops up from screen and keyboard, sniffs, and smiles. I bet it would do wonders for morale. So the next day you come home in a swirl of stress, toss a slice or two in the toaster. I guarantee in a few minutes you’ll be wrapped in culinary comfort, as cozy as toast…

This week’s recipe is for homemade bread. OK, before you stop reading, (“yeast, and KNEADING…yeah, I think not…”) let me reassure you that baking bread is not as scary as it might seem. Over the last few years several recipes have come out for various “no knead”, long-proofed breads. Instead of huffing and puffing kneading dough into submission, just mix the ingredients together, stash them in a cozy spot, and after several hours the yeast get their groove on with nary a finger raised by you to pummel them into action. I’ve been playing with this technique and recipes for a while now, and think I’ve come up with one that will work every time. The basic recipe (just flour, water, yeast and salt) is also really easy to adapt to different kinds of flour and flavorings. It’s not entirely no-knead, but you need only rough it up about a minute or two. Therefore I call it my Nearly Knead-Free Bread. It not only taste great, but the air fills with a subtle scent of cinnamon and cardamom when it toasts. And you can’t get cozier than that. 🙂

Nearly Knead-Free Bread

Makes one 1 ½ lb loaf

Don’t be scared off by the length of this recipe. There are really only three steps – make the dough, form into a loaf, and bake. In between the steps you have nothing to do but think about how good it’s going to taste. The reason I’ve done a lot of explaining below is so you get familiar with the technique.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¼  cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp cinnamon (optional)
  • ¼ tsp cardamom (optional)
  • 1 package yeast (check the date to be certain it has not or is not close to expired)
  • 1 TBSP honey
  • 1 TBSP milk
  • ½ TBSP vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups very warm tap water
  • Corn meal for sprinkling on pan

Making the dough

Add all of the dry ingredients to a large bowl or container — make sure it’s big enough so the dough has plenty of room to double. Whisk the dry ingredients together. Add the milk, then oil, then the honey to a 2-cup measure or bowl. (If you do the honey after the oil in the same spoon, it will slide out easily.) Add the very warm tap water and mix well.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix it up vigorously with a sturdy spoon until there are no dry spots. Go ahead, rough up the dough a bit, it likes that and is great for stress release. The dough will look raggy and that’s ok, but if it makes you feel better get your hands in there and knead it a minute so it forms a rough ball. Cover the bowl well with plastic wrap and set aside in a draft-free spot to rise at least 4 ½ hours. If you like you could make it before you go to bed and leave it overnight, or make this before you leave the house in the morning and bake it when you get home. My favorite spot to let dough rise is my microwave. I just stow it in there, shut the door and the yeast has all the privacy it needs to get busy.

Forming the loaf and preparing the oven

When the dough has risen to double in size or so, scrape it onto a floured counter. Get your frustrations out and smack it down to release the air in it, then knead it for about a minute. (FYI, kneading is just folding it on itself over and over.) Form the dough into a ball. Sprinkle some cornmeal liberally on a cookie sheet. Place the dough on the  sheet and jiggle the pan a little to make sure the dough can move. Cover the dough with a clean towel and let rise another 55-60 minutes.

While the dough is rising, move the top oven rack to the middle and if you have a pizza/baking stone** put it on the rack. Place your broiler pan (or another pan that can take the heat) on the bottom of your oven. Preheat oven to 400°F.

Baking the loaf

Once the dough has risen the second time and the oven is hot and ready, take a serrated knife and quickly cut two parallel slits in the top of the dough, about ¼” inch deep. (If you forget to do this, don’t worry; the bread will taste wonderful just the same.) Slide the dough from the cookie sheet with a quick jerk onto the stone (if using), or just place the sheet into the oven. Quickly toss ¼ cup or so of water into the broiler pan and shut door to create a little steam. (And if you forget to do this too, the bread will still taste wonderful.)

Bake 30-35 minutes until golden brown and when you thump on the bottom of the loaf it sounds hollow. Shut off the oven, but keep the bread in for about 5 minutes more (a trick I picked up watching an early Julia Child episode. It dries out any extra moisture in the center of the loaf.) Remove dough to a rack to cool. DON’T cut into it for at least 20 minutes. Trust me, the bread will taste much better when it’s just warm and not hot. Calories: about 55 per ounce.

Variations:

  • Substitute semolina flour or fine cornmeal for the whole wheat, or you could use all AP flour
  • Add in 2 tsp of fennel seeds and ½ cup golden raisins (works nice if you are using semolina flour)
  • Add in 1 TBSP finely chopped rosemary and 1 TBSP lemon zest instead of cinnamon and cardamom
  • Add in ½ cup chopped kalamata olives, substitute water for the milk and honey, leave out the spices

**A Note about Pizza/Baking Stones: Baking stones are great for getting a good crust and providing somewhat even heat in your oven. But that doesn’t mean you have to run out and get one to make this recipe. If you don’t have one, just bake the bread on the cookie sheet.

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button). Thanks! 🙂

Felice Cinquantesimo Compleanno Karina!

As I may have mentioned once or twice before (ok maybe a little more than once or twice), I’m turning 50 this year. This Sunday to be exact, and I’m really looking forward to it. No, REALLY. Sure my youth is gone, my parts have decidedly begun their march south (damn gravity), and I occasionally make old man sound when rising up off the couch. But luckily I’m healthy, everything still works pretty well, and despite lack of current romance or work, my mood is downright sunny. Not the usual for someone hitting the half-century mark. No hair pulling, no hand wringing, no woe-is-me-ing in sight. Early onset dementia you say? Well, no, not quite. I happily welcome my 50’s because on Friday I’m packing the Pradas and we’re off to celebrate in their birthplace….ITALY! Oh the history, the art, the FOOD, the SHOES!!! And the men, ahhhh the men. I envision them all as Rosano Brazzi in “Summertime”. Ok, maybe that’s a stretch, but it’s my vision. Coins will be tossed, canals will be crossed, and cocktails sipped under Cinzano umbrellas. I will eat and shop, and shop and eat, from Milan to Venice to Rome!

©cookinginmyheels.com

So how did this all come about? As beautiful visions often do…during a mani-pedi. You laugh, but many great visions are channeled in big cushy massage chairs while digits get pumiced and polished. Anyway, last summer during mid-soak, I was asked what I wanted to do for my 50th. Obviously since work was scarce and funds even scarcer, I responded “a Carvel ice cream cake would be nice…” My reply was quickly pooh-poohed. Told I should suspend current reality, I was commanded to think again. “OK, if I could do anything, I mean anything, I’d like to go to Venice.” Be careful what you say to your fairy godmother. Yes, I have a fairy godmother, and she just happened to be sitting in the chair next to mine. Estelle is her name, (Mrs. Finklestein to you), and she lives within my sweet friend Darryl. Satisfied by the new wish, Estelle smiled. That’s how fairy godmothers work you see. They just smile; meanwhile wheels start to turn in their fervent fabulous heads. A wish became an idea, the idea turned to reservations, and this Friday Darryl and I (and Estelle) wing our way to the land of pasta, proscuitto and PRADA! Through an act of incredible generosity from an amazing man, this gal is celebrating cinquanta anni in Italia! Know what’s even better? I get to share it with my wonderful friend. There’s only one problem…how am I’m going to pack all those shoes! 😉

Get ready for a LOT of recipes D’Italia in the coming weeks and months. I mean, how could I possibly eat my way through Italy and not share it? So just to whet the appetite, here is the first of many on a theme.

The inspiration for my Schiacciata con Pesche came from Jim Lahey’s Pizza Bianca. In his book My Bread he includes a sweet variation of it with raisins and grapes. That gave me an idea. On my 45th birthday I threw a cocktail and dessert party, and included a peach pizza. So adapting a Pizza Bianca recipe to peaches seemed like a brilliante idea to me.  Happily, it was delicious too! Not overly sweet, this is a flatbread, not a cake. It’s perfect for breakfast with some ricotta or mascarpone on top, and makes an incredible panini with fresh mozzarella melted in-between. And since it’s based on a no-knead technique, you can make the dough the night before and let it proof overnight. Mangiamo!

Schiacciata con Pesche

Makes one large sized flatbread, about 17” x 13”

  • 3 cups flour
  • Heaping ½ tsp active dry yeast
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 ½ cups cool water
  • Extra virgin olive oil for brushing on pan and dough (I use an EVOO spray)

For the peaches:

  • 2-3 large peaches, sliced in half, pitted and cut into about ½” pieces
  • 1-2 tsp sugar for sprinkling on top

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, yeast, salt, and sugar. Add the water and using a wooden spoon or your hand (I find using my hand easier), mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Lightly coat a second medium bowl with olive oil and place dough in it. Cover and let sit at room temperature until the dough is more than doubled and the surface is dotted with bubbles, about 8-9 hours. (This is perfect for putting together the night before and letting rise while you sleep.)

When the first rise is done, generously dust a board or work surface and scrap the dough out of the bowl in one piece. Using floured hands or a bench scraper, fold the dough over itself two or three times and nudge it into a loose flat ball. Brush or spray the surface with olive oil and sprinkle a pinch of sugar over the top. Let sit, uncovered in a warm draft-free spot and allow to rise until doubled, about 1-2 hours.

A half-hour before the end of second rise, preheat oven to 500°F and put rack in center of oven.  Oil a sided cookie pan or half sheet pan. Transfer the dough to the pan in one piece, and spread out to a relatively even thickness. It doesn’t necessarily have to go all the way into the corners but should be even thickness so it cooks uniformly. Using your fingers (or if you have nails, your knuckles so you don’t tear the dough) make dimples all over the dough. Push the pieces of peach into the dimples, then brush with olive oil (or a little melted butter) and sprinkle with 1-2 teaspoons sugar.

Bake in the center of the oven for 12-15 minutes, rotating pan halfway through.  Remove from pan to a cooling rack and let cool about 15 minutes. Slice up and enjoy with a cappuccino! Calories: approximately 185 per slice for 8 slices, 125 for 12.