Sunday, October 26, 2008

Week 5: Pumpkin Bread

Well, fall has arrived, well barely in Los Angeles, it is going to be 90 degrees today! But I grew up in the mid-west and loved fall, the change in seasons, falling leaves, hot food, and stews. I also LOVE pumpkin! I can’t wait for this time of year to try all kinds of great pumpkin recipes. I have experimented with all kinds of varieties of pumpkin and each is so different and great. Below is my current list of pumpkin cookbooks I recommend and try a few new things each year. The first two cookbooks have a good amount of photos, I love photos in cookbooks! I want to see what my food should look like when it is done!

  • The Pumpkin Cookbook, Hamlyn

  • Pumpkin, Joanna Farrow

  • Pumpkin, A Super Food for All 12 Months of the Year, DeeDee Stovel

I do have a funny story about a pumpkin and raisin cheesecake that I made one year for Thanksgiving. My boyfriend and I were spending Thanksgiving at his grandparent’s house one year and I decided I was going to make this really interesting pumpkin cheesecake and I was going to buy "pumpkin in a can", but decided to cook a fresh pumpkin from scratch. I am not sure what pumpkin I chose, but the pumpkin flesh was soooo bright orange that my cheesecake was nuclear orange, not your traditional brown looking pumpkin pie. The taste was great, but the looks I got from the family were interesting and people were too scared to try it. More for me! So I am back to canned pumpkin, easy, hastle free, and the taste is fine. Here is a recipe I developed since there are hundreds of variations of pumpkin quick bread. I wanted to share this recipe since it is truly the best quick bread I have ever had.

Pumpkin Bread:

Sift together:

  • 2 cups white flour

  • 1 1/3 cup almond meal (Trader Joe’s has an affordable house brand)

  • 3 cups sugar

  • 2 teaspoons baking soda

  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt

  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon (I go heavy on this)

  • 3 teaspoons nutmeg (I also go heavy on this spice too)

  • ½ teaspoon ginger

Mix together:

  • 1 cup vegetable oil (Try some other oils for extra flavor like Walnut oil)

  • 4 eggs slightly beaten

  • 2/3 cup water

  • 2 cups canned pumpkin

Special items needed: Almond Meal and Walnut Oil if wanted

Step 1: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Step 2: Sift together all the dry ingredients. If you do not have almond meal, you can use all white flour or whole wheat. I found that the almond meal really adds extra flavor and moisture to this bread.

Step 3: Mix together the wet ingredients. I bought some Walnut oil to try a little nuttier flavor to the bread. Canola oil, veggie oil, whatever you have should work fine. You are putting in a cup of this stuff, so this is not a "low cal recipe", but it tastes good.

Step 4: Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until mixed. Pour into 3 average sized greased and floured loaf pans or what I like to do for the holidays is to buy some of the small disposable metal pans to give as gifts. Fill about 3/4 full so there is some room to let the bread rise some. If you grease them with oil first and shake around some flour in the pan to over the oil, it is easier to get the bread out later.

Step 5: Bake for about 50 minutes to 1 hour or until the toothpick comes out clean. Cool for about 5 minutes and then turn out on a rack to cool completely. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or freeze since this will make 3 loaves. Calories per slice is about 123 calories with just flour and 134 calories with the almond meal, each loaf yields 12 slices.

This is the best quick bread I have ever made and I love quick bread!! You can use muffin tins if you wish. I found this is a great gift for the holidays and you can make them up ahead of time. Have fun, Happy Halloween, and enjoy!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Week 4: Homemade Butter

Well, this has been an interesting experiment for me. I had heard how easy and good it was to make your own homemade butter. I did a little research online, to see how it was done. I am not a big direction reader, so I looked up a few sites and decided that I was just going to go for it! So lately I am loving powdered milk, despite the scare in China on powdered milk in the last few weeks, since I don’t seem to drink milk fast enough before it spoils, I can just make up a batch of powdered milk, refrigerate it and it is great in my morning coffee. So I started with my nonfat powdered milk and put it in a jar and started shaking, and shaking, and shaking... Well, about 15 to 20 minutes in, after trading off vigorous shaking of the jar with my boyfriend, we realized that we were trying to make butter with, yes, non-fat milk, kinda difficult since there is no FAT in it to make the butter. Okay, lesson learned I thought.

So I go out to the store and decide to buy a nice glass bottle of milk so I can use it for my powdered milk. I then picked up homogenized milk, since that was whole milk right?! So I put the milk in a jar again, and start shaking it, and shaking it, and shaking it... I was shaking that thing for over an hour. I even took the jar with me on my evening walk with my dog to see when this thing would finally turn into butter. Very hillbilly! I then decided this whole make butter thing was way over rated and I can see why we just buy it in the store and be done with it.

Well, then a few weeks later my boyfriend tells me about an article he read about homogenized milk and guess what, homogenized milk is a process they do to keep the fat and water particles in the milk from sticking together. What!?! That was a dirty trick. No wonder days of shaking was not going to create butter. So, now with my new knowledge of milk products, I buy the good stuff, heavy whipping cream! Oh yes. Loads of fat. So I start the process for the third time, milk in a container and shake. I swear, not but 5 minutes later I had butter, a miracle!! Third time was a charm. How ridiculous is that? Easy, fast, and it really makes butter and the liquid by-product is buttermilk! So this hillbilly chick finally learned how to make my own homemade butter. And let me tell you, it rocks! Light creamy taste! So long story short, here is the recipe:

Homemade Butter:

  • Heavy whipping cream

  • Salt to taste
Special items needed: a jar and a strong arm

Step 1: Measure whipping cream and put in a jar. 1 cup whipping cream will yield ½ cup butter and ½ cup buttermilk. I would recommend a glass container so you can see it working its magic. Don’t overfill the container, only about half full, since you need the milk to move around and bounce off the walls.

Step 2: Put the lid on the jar and shake your little heart out. I found it only took me about 5 minutes. Some sites I reviewed said 10 to 20 minutes, but you are going to shake and shake and shake. Your milk will basically turn from liquid to whipped cream, and then to butter which separates and makes buttermilk. It will be noisy for the first few minutes as you shake and then it will get silent and foamy looking. It doesn’t seem like anything is happening, and then all of a sudden the fat separates from the water and all the butter particles stick together in a clump and are now butter. The liquid remaining is the buttermilk. Pretty cool.

Step 3: Strain the buttermilk and butter. I saved my buttermilk for later when I plan to make some pancakes. Try and push out any remaining liquid with a paper towel from the butter. I think I even read to rinse the butter with water to help it keep longer. I added a little salt to taste and that was it! Refrigerate.

Yep, pretty easy and faster than I had expected. The key is to have heavy whipping cream around! The taste is really wonderful! It is worth a try being a little hillbilly! Enjoy.

Recipe credit to:

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Week 3: Homemade Strawberry Jam

I had intended to write about how to make homemade butter this week, but I have been having some difficulties and after about an hour of shaking a jar of whole milk, I decided that this was not going to be easy. One of the purposes of this Blog is to find easy homemade things to do and make, not shaking a jar until your arm falls off! So, I need to do some more experiments with how to make butter and hopefully next week I will have an easy method!

Well, this recipe on how to may your own homemade strawberry jam is about as easy as it gets. I found that the jam in the grocery store was okay, nothing special and if you wanted to buy a really good brand of jam or jelly, then you would pay a fortune. My Mom suggested I try making my own, so to the store I went to buy some basic canning supplies and pectin. Well, low and behold, my grocery store did not have any pectin, just gelatin, and no glass canning jars. I then realized that I don’t think anyone in LA makes their own jam. Okay, there may be a few out there, but you really have to go out and search to find some supplies, find pectin, and jars. I did go to another "main stream" grocery store just last week and found a box of pectin. Look for the Sure Jell brand in a yellow box. I found some fancy, crazy pectin at Whole Foods, Pomona’s Universal Pectin, which looks more complicated, but I am sure it will be fine. The other place to find pectin is at a hardware store?! They also have canning jars. We are NOT going to can this recipe, so don’t get scared and think you are going to spend hours in the kitchen. This is actually a freezer jam recipe that you can just stick the extras in a plastic container and put it in the freezer. We will attempt canning in another Blog, as soon as I find an easy method.

Now the fun part, let's make some delicious jam! The box of Sure Jell has a bunch of recipes for all kinds of fruit, so try them based on what is in season or what I did, just buy a bag of frozen strawberries and go.

Easy Strawberry Freezer Jam:

  • 2 pints strawberries (fresh or frozen) If you buy the frozen, you don’t have to de-stem them. Just thaw the berries the night before you want to make your jam. Really simple.

  • 4 cups sugar (yes, I know this is a lot of sugar, but just do it)

  • 1 box of Sure Jell pectin

Special items needed: just some containers to store your jam in.

Step 1: Crush the strawberries in a bowl. I have a potato masher or you can use a fork to get the berries mashed.

Step 2: Add your sugar to the crushed strawberries and mix. The box says to let stand for 10 minutes. I just added the sugar, mix and go to the next step, while I guess the berries are resting & getting jacked up on sugar.

Step 3: Open the pectin mixture packet and mix with 3/4 cup of water into a small saucepan over medium to medium-high heat. Now you just bring the pectin and water to a boil, continue stirring to make sure the mixture is disolved. Boil for 1 minute while stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

Step 4: Pour the hot pectin mixture into your bowl of sugared up strawberries and stir. You just want to make sure everything is mixed together well for a few minutes. That’s it! Yes, that’s it. Tada, strawberry jam!!

Step 5: Okay, you need to pour your jam into containers. I put a few in glass jars that I am going to use or give as gifts, and then the rest in a plastic container that will go in the freezer. Make sure to leave some room/space at the top to allow for expansion in the freezer.

Step 6: Let stand at room temperature for 24 hours to set up. Then stick in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks and you can freeze the rest. This can all be done in about 15 minutes plus your resting time.

This makes about 5 cups of jam, so it is great as gifts for the holidays. The jam tastes sooo good! I found that I am using this jam all the time now, on pancakes, toast, etc. I also put a teaspoon on my homemade yogurt from Week 1. It gives it a little sweetness and is all natural. (well there is a ton of sugar, but still natural) I am going to try some of the other recipes in the box of Sure Jell, but this is an easy and great way to have something homemade and boy are friends impressed with homemade jam! Enjoy.

Recipe credit to: The Box of Sure Jell pectin

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Week 2: No Knead Bread

I love bread! I admit I am a carb addict and love hot out of the oven bread that practically burns your fingers as you break it apart and slather the piece with lots and lots of butter! But, I seem to have a fear of kneading bread! Or at least I think it seems like it is way too much work to make your own fresh homemade bread, let it rise, punch it down, knead it, let it rise, punch it down, etc. So... when I came across this recipe for a no-knead bread, I was ready to give it a try. Scott and I had actually heard about this recipe first from his cousin, Andy, who made it daily. Then my trusty Williams Sonoma catalog came in the mail and there it was, the perfect no-knead bread recipe! Okay I guess the New York Times published this recipe ages ago and it was all the rage, but I didn't get on the bandwagon until this year. This bread comes out absolutely beautiful, crispy on the outside, soft and yummy on the inside! After my first attempt, I thought I could go into business selling bread to local restaurants since it was THE best bread I had ever had or at least made. So here is my version of this recipe.

No-Knead Bread:

  • 3 cups flour (experiment with mixtures of all-purpose, whole wheat, etc.)

  • 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast (in the packets) Yes, I know there is barely any yeast!

  • 1 3/4 teaspoons salt

  • 1 5/8 cups warm water (105 degrees)

  • Cornmeal as needed

  • Optional: chopped fresh or dry herbs, olives, feta cheese, lemon zest (or anything you like)

Special items needed: candy thermometer, cast iron dutch oven or oven safe container with a lid

Step 1: In a large bowl, combine flour, yeast, salt, and herbs if desired.

Step 2: Add warm water and blend until sticky. I live in Southern California and it is dry, so I add a little extra water until it is sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature.

Step 3: Let rest for 12 to 18 hours! I know that is forever, but just let it do its thing. If I want bread for dinner the next day, I usually start the process the night before just before I go to bed. It will be ready for you the next day around dinner time.

Step 4: Place dough on a floured surface, sprinkle with a little additional flour and fold it over on itself once, then twice. That’s it! Pick it up and put it back in the bowl, cover again, and let rest for 15 minutes. See no kneading required! I like it.

Step 5: Get a cookie sheet out and place a towel on it (a smooth towel works best without cloth fibers sticking out) and sprinkle corn meal on the bottom. I prefer white corn meal, which is a whole other story and will write a Blog about various corn meal options in the future.

Step 6: After the dough has had its little rest. Take it out and place it on the floured surface again and just move it around a little to try and shape it, sorta. I just try and get it into a round-ish shape. Place the dough on the towel with corn meal, sprinkle the top with a little more corn meal, and fold over the towel to cover the dough. Let rest for 2 hours.

Step 7: About 30 minutes before I bake the dough, I turn on the oven to 450 degrees. At about 10 minutes before you are ready, put your cast iron Dutch oven in to warm up. I highly recommend a cast iron Dutch oven for baking a nice and crispy bread.

Step 8: Take out the cast iron Dutch oven, remove the lid, and now pick up the dough in the towel and sorta scoot the dough into the Dutch oven. I try to center it best I can. Replace the lid and put it in the oven.

Step 9: Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and test the bread by tapping it. You want to hear a hollow-ish sound to know if it is done. I usually place it in for another 10-15 minutes without the lid to help brown the top. I check it every 5 minutes or so. You don’t want to over cook the bottom of the loaf so, as soon as it is done and sounds hollow or has a thud sound take it out.

Step 10: I remove it right away from the cast iron since it will continue to cook and place the loaf on a wire rack to cool for about 10 minutes. Then tear into the loaf, burn your fingers in the process, add butter, and eat piping hot bread!! It is yummy. That’s it! Pretty easy.

Eat & enjoy! I find there is little effort in making the bread and you just need to plan your timing of when you want to bake it. You just need to give yourself about 3 hours total the next day to do the folding, resting, and baking. (Most of that is passive and you just need to be around the house) I found that it is best the day you make the bread and will keep crisp on the outside. If you store it, the follow day the crust has softened, but you can always just toast it again. The dough does not rise a ton, hey look, you only put 1/4 teaspoon of yeast in there, so it does pretty well with little yeast! We also tried using cast iron loaf pans and it worked great. There was no lid on the loaf pans, but seemed to rise nicely and still tasted great. Experiment, test, and try various flours, herbs, etc. I have made this so many times that you can do almost anything and it will still come out nice. Have fun and enjoy! See no kneading required!

Recipe credit to: Williams Sonoma. Click here to view their recipe. Great site by the way!