Friday, December 31, 2010

Toast - my "goto" Bread Formula

Very exciting... Bit by Bit, we are moving towards solid food.  Yesterday Jackie got to eat eggs.  Today, she asked for toast!

Whoo whoo, I get to bake!!!

Seriously, a bread post on the last day of 2010 makes a great deal of sense.  Last year at this time I posted my resolution for the year.  It was simple, stop wasting bread.  I initially thought that meant I would buy a loaf, freeze half (we are empty nesters, just Jackie and myself), make some more bread pudding and bread crumbs for coating fish and chicken.  It evolved into being a baker.  I have over a dozen different varieties of bread under my belt, and I can not think of a week in the last year when I did not bake bread.

In all seriousness, if I can do it... certainly you kitchen pros can take some flour, water, salt and sugar mix in a little yeast and make a stunningly beautiful looking, delightfully aromatic and deliciously tasting loaf of bread.  I have had many cooking success stories, but to this day, the thrill of a home baked loaf of bread is my favorite kitchen experience.

I hear from a few of you every time I do a bread post that you are afraid of yeast.  I understand, I've been there.  But, it's a new year, it's an opportunity to try new things.  So, to those half dozen or so of you bread baker want-to-be's...  This post is for you...

Makes one 2-pound loaf or 2 1 pound loafs
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water (about 100ยบ F)
1 tablespoons granulated yeast
1  tablespoons kosher or other coarse salt
4 cups all-purpose white flour (no need to sift)
2 1/2 TBS Sugar

Extra 1/4 cup Flour  to aid in kneading
A brush of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

a pinch of Sea Salt

  1. Mix the dry ingredients first.  I like to do the mixing stage in a gallon size ziplock bag.  I mix my bread in a Kitchenaid Mixer.  I have also been successful mixing in a food processor.  During my time on the island, when I didn't have any kitchen appliances, I did the mixing by hand..
  2. Add the water and mix well.  Be sure the water is warm, but not too hot.  Anything above 110 degrees will kill the yeast before it gets a chance to do it's magic.
  3. Now it's time to knead the bread.  Keep the extra flour handy, as the dough at this stage is very wet.  Knead for at least 10 minutes.  You will need to add flour to get to a sticky, but not too sticky phase.  With experience, you can feel and see the bread become hydrated.  That is when the ingredients mix completely, and it is ready for a rest.  I "knead" in the Kitchenaid at a medium-low setting for about 5 minutes.  I do the last few minutes by hand to get the feel of the right consistency.  Ready to add more flour if needed, or more water (in 1/2 teaspoon increments) if needed.
  4. Modern Bread makers call it proofing, old timers call it rising.  But whatever you want to call it, form the dough into a ball, coat with a bit of Olive Oil so the outside does not dry out, cover with a towel and let it rise for 2 to 3 hours.  The dough will double in size in that time .
  5. And now, it's time to punch the dough down,  and orm the loaf
  6. Punching the dough is exactly what it sounds like.  The yeast releases gases.  That is why the dough doubles in size.  When you take a punch at the dough, the gases are released.  The dough returns to it's original size.  If you are dividing the dough, use a knife to cut the dough, instead of tearing.
  7. You can make a round inverted bowl shape, or in this case, I made a loaf size.  A little kneading is fine (it's just fun to knead), but no more than a minute or two.
  8. If you press the dough out to a circle, even thickness, and roll it up, it forms a nice submarine shape.
  9. Brush a little Oil on the outside of the bread and sprinkle a bit of coarse cut Sea Salt on the top.
  10. Take a VERY sharp knife and cut slits onto the bread 
  11. I bake the bread (350 degrees) using a remote read thermometer, with the prob inserted into the center of the bread.  The bread is done when it reaches an internal temp of 190 degrees.  If you cook by time, it takes about 25 minutes if you are baking a loaf (long, thinner, like a submarine), or about 30 minutes if you are baking a bowl shape.
  12. Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before cutting (this also evens out the cooking internally so the final loaf has no underdone dough spots).

For Jackie's toast, I brushed on some Truffle Olive Oil and rubbed a slice of garlic on each side.  Pop in the oven until just starting to toast around the edges.  Then topped with just a little bit of Pecorino Cheese.  Similar in taste to Parmesan, but melts much better.

This recipe is for a French Bread.  I do add a bit extra sugar to make a sweeter bread.  .

And of course, regular readers know that I make this bread in memory of my friend who passed away in 2010.

Eng Bread.  You know it, you love it, and it is nearly fool proof.

It's just a simple loaf of French Bread, with just a bit extra sugar.  Very easy, very fast and tastes great.  Go ahead make bread baking your New year's goal.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Deviled Eggs - Protein

Well my friends, it has been a very odd month.  Jackie's been on a liquid diet and I lost my will to cook.  Well, that's a little dramatic, but honestly, when I have been under orders to make bland, mushy food, I did lose my will to blog.  But the worst is behind us and now we just need to proceed with getting back to normal.  Jackie's blood work came back showing low on proteins.  So, Deviled eggs are her snack.  Morning noon and night, she pops one or two to get her numbers higher.

Fortunately, Deviled Eggs are among my favorite things to make.

Now, let's make the deviled eggs.

I have a trick to make perfect hard boiled eggs... Not too soft, not too hard.  Put eggs in a pot, cover with water about an inch above the eggs.  Now, put on high heat until the water reaches a rapid boil (only about 3 minutes).  Remove from the heat, cover and wait 10 minutes...


And from there, just make deviled eggs.  Easiest recipe...

cut the eggs in half, remove the yolks.

add juice of 1/2 a lemon, mayonnaise and yellow mustard to taste (I do a 2 to 1 mayo over mustard mix) until you reach a thick paste stage.

Fill the eggs.  If you want to get pretty, use your piping bags like you would to decorate a cupcake.

I also like to sprinkle a little bit of "Not Your Grandmother's Herbs de Provence" spice mix and you are done...


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The year I made BREAD! Cinnamon Walnut Raisin Bread

This year I went from being shocked and amused by bread from my oven to matter of fact about it.  I bake every week, with the exception of just a few loafs that you can count on one hand, I made all of my bread this year.  Yeast is now a staple that I keep in stock at all times.

This was my favorite, and the loaf that set my mind that I am indeed a baker...

Week 8 - 2 months, 1/3rd of my time on island is gone already.  Kind of depressing to dwell on.  Only one cure for that depression and that is to make BREAD!!!

Another week spent in the Caribbean, it must be my day to post my bread baking adventures for the week. I promised myself on New Year's Eve that I would be trying to learn more as a bread baker, and if possible to cook through the"The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread" book. I brought three cookbooks with me to my island adventure. The "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" book was one. It is now week Eight of my island adventure, and here is week Eight of my bread baking experiences.  

Get the arrows ready, gonna be a little controversial here... This bread was a labor of love for my dear wife.  Because...  I HATE (not just a little, I mean A LOT) ... I HATE RAISINS.  The texture, the taste the nastiness of those hideous dried up worthless pieces of grape dung!  I gave in on Brussels sprouts and made a few recipes.  But do not expect the same with these spoiled pieces of fruit.  Never ever gonna happen.

But my wife loves em.  And she got to pick out my bread recipe today.  And guys, here's the secret to a happy marriage...  If your wife's job takes her to a Caribbean island, she takes you along as her cook, and she wants raisin bread... By god, you make her raisin bread.  And you make her a GREAT raisin bread.

And (if you like this kind of thing) this is a GREAT recipe... Stuffed full of raisins (shudder) and walnuts, and you even learn how to make that pretty swirl of sweet cinnamon.

Here's what I did...

3 1/2 cups Flour
4 tsp Sugar
1 1/4 tsp Salt
2 tsp Instant Yeast
1 1/4 Cinnamon
1 large room temperature Egg, slightly beaten
2 TBS room temperature softened Butter
1/2 cup room temperature Buttermilk
3/4 cups Water
9 ounces (1 1/2 cups) Rasins
1 cup coarsely chopped Walnuts

To make the swirl, you also need...
1/2 cup Sugar
2 TBS Cinnamon

To add flavor and presentation topping...
1 TBS Butter
2 TBS Sugar
1 tsp Cinnamon

  • Whisk together - Flour, Sugar, Salt, Yeast and Cinnamon
    Slowly add the Egg, Butter, Buttermilk and water
    I mixed by hand, but feel free to break out the Kitchenaid to mix to form a ball of dough
  • But, you should knead by hand.  10 minutes at least to get the dough completely hydrated. Work on a floured surface, but be careful to not use too much additional flour.  The more flour you add, the tougher your bread will be.
  • During the last 1/3rd of your kneading time, start adding the Walnuts and Raisins.  Continue kneading til well mixed.
  • Lightly coat a bowl with oil, roll the dough in the oil, cover and allow to raise for @2 hours, or until the dough has doubled in size...

  • Divide the dough into two equal balls (this recipe makes two loafs).
  • Now, it's time to add the swirl.  This step is optional, but very dramatic...
    Spread the dough into a rectangle 8 inches long by 5 inches wide and about 1/2 inch thick.  Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture and roll up into a loaf...

  • If you don't do the swirl, form into the shape of a loaf of bread and put into a greased loaf pan.  Mist the top with a spray oil and cover,  Allow a final rise for about 90 minutes, until the dough rises above the lip of the pan.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Bake for 40 to 60 minutes.  The book advises (and I do) using a remote prob thermometer and baking til the internal temperature is 190 degrees.
  • Remove from the pans and allow to cool for at least an hour before serving.
  • For one final presentation accent, rub a bit of butter on the top.  then roll the buttered top in a final mixture of sugar and cinnamon...

I went into this project knowing that this bread was not my cup of tea.  But, once I spent an hour carefully removing every hint of a raisin (there were LOTS) from a slice, I loved this bread.  Very sweet, great texture and beautiful.

Jackie thought this single loaf of bread was worth all the effort of having me around while she is working in paradise.

I want to thank Mary from ONE PERFECT BITE.  I asked Mary about the other loaf (remember, this recipe makes 2 loafs).  I wanted to freeze a loaf and have it ready for our next set of guests (in one week).  I wasn't sure if I could freeze the dough, if I could, and at what stage is best to freeze raw dough.  Mary did find a site that advised freezing prior to the final rise.  But she also told me that she freezes her bread after it is cooked.  Well, I know what side of my bread is buttered, and I followed the advice of this terrific blogger/cook.  So, Michelle, when you arrive, plan on a slice of this for breakfast!

 I am so loving this book, and incredible collection and certainly belongs on every cook's shelf.  Once again, incredible recipes and more important, you learn the process of being a baker.  Anyone can follow a recipe.  This book makes you learn why each step is important...

If I can do it, you can too...

BUY THIS BOOK!  The used price from Amazon just dropped a couple dollars... JUMP on the deal NOW...

The book is LARGE, lots of photos, and information.  Filled with dozens of recipes and easy to follow step by step directions.  And now Amazon is selling this for nearly half price (less than half if you want a used copy.  Follow the link  above and order TODAY!...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Plantains! Fry em up Baby! Like potato chips

Here's an oddity... Not sure why, but "Plantains" is my word.  I show up on search engines more for my plantain post than any other... This post originally was written on June 30th, and since then, 942 people have found it largely via searches.  So, it deserves a place among my Best of 2010 posts...

Here's an oldie but a goodie around here.

Plantains... They look like bananas... They cook like sweet potatoes.

Lots of BBQ's being planned these days, and more than one is going to have a tropical theme.  These come together fast (only one ingredient plus frying oil), have an unexpected unique taste, and best of all, with a little za za zing added will satisfy the pickiest of eaters...


The plantain is the one on the left.

But they also look like this...

Around these parts, the green ones are called.... Green Plantains.  The yellow ones are called...





Nope, wrong... The yellow ones are called ripe plantains.  Much as you might think I want to cook with ripe plantains, for this recipe, we are going to use green ones.  They are very stiff, hard.  They will feel like a potato (and cook like one).  If you should happen to grab a ripe plantain, they are terrific in a little butter with sugar (caramelized).

But let's say you have a green one...

Just peal (not as easy as it sounds).  Slice off the two ends, cut into the peal and cut a slit the length of the fruit.  And work around till all the peal is released.  MUCH stiffer than a banana, but it will come off.

Next, slice into chips (you can also slice into French fry shapes).  Slice them fairly thin, about 1/4 inch thick.

Heat up some Canola Oil over medium heat, and dump the chips in...

It takes about 5 minutes for them to get fully cooked.  You don not want to crowd them, so I fry up just just the chips that come from one plantain at a time.  You can see them just start to turn brown around the edges.

Remove with a slotted spoon, dry them with a paper towel.  They will have a crispness, like a thick cut potato chip.  But the center will be soft and chewy like a baked potato.  A terrific contrast.

I do a quick egg wash with a beaten egg so the salt mixture will stick...

The lime zest Salt mixture is the key to set your chips apart.  It has a tropical zing and adds a wonderful look to the final dish...

Easy mix... Equal parts sea salt and zest from a lime.

Easy Peasy... but will make your party tropical themed party memorable.  These go great with burgers!

Monday, December 27, 2010

What do you do in St Thomas on a Rainy day

Here's another of my favorite posts... Shows all the free time I had on the island on week..

First a joke... 

Nah, I can't, it's a dirty joke.  But I do have a story about the joke.  The idea of a "best" friend is an odd concept.  Except in my case and with my dear friend, John.  John passed away 7 years ago  I don't think of him every day, but at odd times, his ghost pops up and makes me laugh.  John, had an eggs Benedict joke that he just could never resist.  The joke involves vacations, eggs Benedict and a disparaging statement about various women of his past (although in hind sight, his 2 ex-wifes and his long time girlfriend each got the house (paid in full) in the split.  Jackie always wanted to be one of John's ex significant other.. But I digress).

The joke is in poor taste, but he said it every time we stayed in a hotel, saw eggs Benedict on a menu or was fighting with one of his future home owning wifes.  He told the joke often.

The punch line involved things you could only get on vacation.  John believed that one of those things was eggs Benedict.

He was wrong, you can get them at home.  And amazingly enough, they were VERY easy.  

Just a lot of little steps...

First, make a batch of English FREEDOM MUFFINS.  Like I said yesterday, very easy.

I am going to take a break from the recipe (another one) and give you the back story for these...

It's hard to photograph weather.  But this last weekend, we woke up with wind and rain.  Even here in paradise, it happens.

How about this photo... You have seen this angle before.  Shot from our deck, looking out towards St John (you can just barely make out the "other" US Virgin Isle on the right side).  But the wind was whipping up whitecaps in our normally calm passive cove.  

So, no snorkeling today, no exploring the history of the island today.  No walks on the beach, not even going to be able to read a book while working on my tan.  Nothing to do today except...

Make a big batch of Eggs Benedict, all with different stuffings (will get to that in a minute), and hope Jackie remembers John's joke.

OK, back to the recipe...

The most difficult part of making eggs Benedict is the poached eggs.  Sure, they make those little molds, but I have a system that works very well.  You can only make one at a time like this, but they stay warm for a while after cooking.  Also, a one minute "bath" in boiling water right before serving will warm them up nicely.

I also like the rough look of a naturally poached egg (without using the mold).  It just looks better.

OK, here's my fool proof system...

In a medium size pot, get 3 inches of water rapidly boiling.  Add 1/4 cup white vinegar, and get that boiling rapidly.  Take a spoon and get the water swirling (think flushing toilet)...

Break an egg in a separate bowl.  Once you have made sure the egg has no shell, and the yolk is not broken, slide it in the swirling water.  Right in the center.  Really, it works GREAT!  Once the egg is in, drop the heat from high to medium.  When the egg is done, the water should still be boiling, just more of a gentle boil.

And, leave it alone.  No need to fold the whites, or gently nudge it into shape.  The combination of the vinegar and the swirl makes it form perfectly.

4 minutes is a good time for me.  If you want a hard cooked center, 7 minutes.  If you really really like a runny yolk, 3 minutes or even 2 minutes.

Cooking them 4 minutes, I don't need to put into an ice bath (if you do a web search for poaching eggs, you will occasionally see this step).  If you cook longer, add that step.  But then, you need to reheat them just prior to serving.  Again, 1 minute in a boiling water bath will do that.

And here they are... 6 PERFECT poached eggs (well, 5 actually, as one of them suffered a yolk break in the transfer... close enough).

Cooks choice.  That one was going to be served to me.  I was done poaching.

Next up is to prepare the toppings.

Traditionally, an eggs Benedict is made with Canadian Bacon.  Fry a couple slices up.  I also sliced them into shoestring potato style to make eating easier.

In addition to the Canadian Bacon, I made a vegetarian Eggs Benedict, with a schmeer (I know that's spelled wrong, Oy Vey) of cream cheese mixed with my "Not your Grandmother's Herbes de Provance" spice mixture, topped with some of my Caribbean Salsa, and I had some leftover Skirt Steak (seasoned szechuan style).

But wait, there's more...

How about some diced Chicken (yes, another use for my beloved rotisserie chicken), or how about shrimp or  "standard" bacon!

I even had some beautiful smoked Salmon that I sliced up...

Notice the thin sauce in the last photo.  I am getting ahead of my self, but that sauce is wrong...

But, again, I am ahead of myself... I topped the muffins (fork split) with the meats and put them in a warming oven to keep warm as I fried each meat for about 2 minutes each.  I did the "regular" bacon first, and just fried the rest individually in a bit of bacon drippings.  The salmon and the vegetarian salsa ones are meant to be served cold, with a hot egg and sauce on.  Don't warm them with the rest.

Then, I moved on to the sauce... The other difficult part of making eggs Benedict is the sauce.

And to be honest, first attempt... I failed.  Too runny.

See... But this is a good thing, as I can now tell you how to avoid a runny Hollandaise sauce.

Have the courage of your convictions.  Cook fearless.  I was afraid that I would cook the egg yolks too long, and they would scramble.  I was not fearless (anyone else hearing Meryl Streeps' Julia Child warble in their head?).

BTW, the thin sauce tasted fine, just didn't look fine.

OK, the sauce is just...

4 Egg Yolks (beaten), 4 TBS of Butter and 1 TBS of water (and a pinch of Cayenne Pepper)

First, heat the egg yolks over medium low heat...


add the water, and again...


You will see the yolks start to darken.  That is a good thing.


It gets darker and it thickens up...


If you feel it is starting to thicken up, move the pan off the heat.  I am on an electric stove top, so I can just tilt the pan up with minimum contact to the burner.  It takes a juggling act, but have courage... 

Just stir constantly, and it works!

Add the butter one TBS at a time, and STIR CONSTANTLY until it is melted and mixed before adding the next pad of butter.  Also, add the pinch of pepper at this time and...

You guessed it, STIR CONSTANTLY!

And finally, we are ready to assemble the Benedicts...

If you need to, dip the eggs into boiling water for one minute, and then top each muffin with an egg...

Then, add 2 TBS of sauce on each, and sprinkle a pinch of smoked Paprika.

And finally, we are ready to eat...

The one I made first,  with the Salmon was very good (didn't have enough salmon to make a second, with the better sauce, but even with the thin sauce, was very very good!

The Canadian Bacon... Really GOOD!

The "regular" Bacon... Equally GOOD!

And that Vegetarian version was INCREDIBLE!

And Szechuan Steak... Wow oh Wow was that one good!

And I tear up just a bit when I remember fondly my beloved Rotisserie Chicken.

Oddly enough... The shrimp... Not as good.  But, 6 of the 7 I would make again!

Oh, and an idea... Do you remember my Shrimp Remoulade Benedict - SHRIMP WEEK Day 7?

Imagine all of these filling options with that delicious Remoulade sauce.  If the idea of a Hollandaise sauce frightens you, go back and and look at that post, which is mostly just made in a food processor.  Easy beyond belief.

But, I ran out of muffins, so I didn't make them on my rainy day.  It was just a thought.

So, how do you spend your rainy days???

Sunday, December 26, 2010

My most popular post from 2010 - 1,554 Hits

This was the big one for me, and I am pleased.  It really is a great tasting Chili... Stay Warm!

I may not be the Next Food Blog Star (no $10,000 prize for me)... We have yet to see if I can go anywhere in the Pom Dinner Party contest (winner gets a luxury vacation)...

But, where it counts... 

In the real world that is my Cul de Sac... 

The second annual neighborhood chili cook-off has come and gone.  When the dust settled, the reigning king retaining his crown...


The air was crisp.  The fire pit was roaring and 6 of the real men of the neighborhood broke out their aprons and dared to accept the challenge.  We had a white chili, we had a Cajun Jambalaya inspired chili (that was very good), we had a turkey chili and we had 3 "classic" tomato/beef chili's.  We imported a judge (the cop on the corner agreed... he really is a cop, he really does live on the corner at the entrance to the cul de Sac... everyone should have a cop on the corner).  Blind taste test, he narrowed it down to my classic red  and the Jambalaya chili.

It was close.   

There were rumors afterwards that the judge thought I made the Cajun chili since my affinity for Cajun spices is well known, and wanted to spread the glory to a new cook this year.  Rumors that the judging process was compromised and the "real" best chili was the Cajun chili.  The night ended with vows of a serious challenge would be mounted next year.

But, for the next 364 days, They will have to ponder what my secrets are.

Well, with the understanding that non of you will tell, I will pass on my secrets to you...

First, plan ahead and cook a brisket or in this year's case, smoke a Pork Shoulder and season the heck out of it.  I love chili.  I have just gotten in the habit that whenever I fire up my smoker, I set aside a little meat to pop in the freezer and make chili out of it at a later date.  These extra couple of pounds are seasoned just a bit heavier than the rest of the meat on the smoker.  The rub that I use is filled with extra pepper spices.  Honestly, if I were to serve those cuts on their own, few of my friends would want to eat them.  Just too spicy.  But, combine those extra spicy pieces of meat with tomatoes, chili beans, a little more unseasoned meat, onions, garlic... simmer it all in beer and you have a perfect mix of spices!

Second is to add a little sweet.  Nothing that stands out, just enough to make your taste buds in the front stand up and wonder.  Here's a little anatomy lesson (just a little) for you.  There are different taste buds that taste sweet and taste spicy heat in your mouth.  Most of the buds that taste heat are in the back of your tongue.  Most of the buds that taste sweet are in the front.  those people who only use heat spices to make their chili are boring the sweet buds.  Couldn't be easier, I dump a package of frozen raspberries into the pot when I make my chili.  In the hours that I simmer my chili, the raspberries break down on their own and disappear.  NO ONE can name what that extra ingredient is, but everyone knew there was something in the mix.  All my taste buds have something to pay attention to.

Alright, today, I will share my recipe for chili, but also at the end, I will share my spice mix that i turn into a rub to "over" spice my pork that I then add to the unspiced chili mix.  Clear as mud right?

Here's what I did...

1 bottle of Killian's Beer
2 cans BUSH'S Best Chili Beans
2 small cans Tomato Sauce
1 large can Tomato Paste
1 large sweet onion diced medium size
1 large red pepper diced medium size
4 cloves Garlic, smashed and minced
1 whole tomato diced large size
2 tablespoons ground Ginger
2 tablespoons ground Cumin
1 package of frozen Raspberries
2 pounds browned hamburger
1 pound previously smoked meat, extra spice rub added

Brown the hamburger, dump everything else in a crock pot and allow to simmer for 5-6 hours.  Mix well and reap the neighborhood rewards!

And for those of you that plan ahead, here's my Xtra spicy HOT rub that I use for the meat that I am going to use for my chili.  It freezes well.

3 TBS Coarse Salt
3 TBS Cracked Black Pepper Corns
3 TBS Red Pepper Flakes
3 TBS Onion Flakes
3 TBS Garlic Flakes
3 TBS Dried Parsley
1 TBS Cayenne Pepper Spice
1 cup Brown Sugar

Mix well!