Thursday, April 29, 2010

Beer Review: Alamo Beer Company's Remember the Alamo Golden Ale

Our visit to Texas didn't just lead to good meals; we also enjoyed good Texas beer.  A newish brewery out of San Antonio, Texas is putting out a golden ale.  We were intrigued at the cooler case so we brought home a 6-pack.

I thought it had a nice balance of barley and hop flavor that stayed smooth on the tongue.  It is definitely not as hoppy as a classic pale ale.  The light golden color would look nice in a pint glass, but it was light and refreshing in the bottle, too.

I recommend you check it out when in the Lone Star State.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

No Excuses for Eating Lousy Bread

I didn't eat store-bought bread until I was in high school.  This is gonna sound like the start of a Martha Stewart story, but I promise it is not.

My mother baked bread for our family every week, except for one week when I was very young and our air conditioning didn't work.   She understandably didn't want to turn on the oven.  That week she bought a loaf of bread for the four of us and I'm fairly certain she ended up using most of it for breadcrumbs later.  I hated it.  I hated it more than the heat.  I wasn't even in school yet, and I knew that bread was just wrong.  Bread should not taste that way; it should not have that texture, or that lack of smell.

Mom taught my brother and I how to bake bread, but our loaves were never as good as hers.  I think it was just the practice.  Once I was old enough to truly recognize the amount of effort it takes to bake several loaves of bread every week for a busy family, I was also old enough to take on a lot of the cooking responsibility.    We all took turns trying to bake, but it didn't happen every week.  We filled in the gaps with store-bought loaves.  I still hated the taste, but I understood the trade-off for our schedule that we made by having store-bought bread.

In the years since establishing my own household, I still only make bread haphazardly.  I've never thought of it as difficult (and neither should you).  I tell myself it is more about the time needed for multiple risings.  However, that is still only a lame excuse.

My mom has starting regularly baking bread again.  She had homemade bread there for us during our visit, and it reminded me of how much I enjoy it and how much it can be worth the time and effort.  Feeling inspired, I skipped the bakery section and bread aisle at the grocery store.  Then, I came home and baked bread.

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

Makes two 9 x 5-inch loaves

3 ¼ cups warm water (no more than 110 degrees F)
1/3 cup honey
2 packets or 4 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
canola oil or Crisco for the bowl and pans
4 cups, all purpose flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup wheat germ
2 Tbsp fine sea salt

In a large liquid measuring cup, combine the warm water, 1/3 cup honey, and yeast.  Stir until dissolved.  Set aside to proof.  The mixture will become creamy and foamy, it took less than 5 minutes.  If it doesn’t, your yeast is likely dead.  It could be that the water was too hot water and killed the yeast or it was dead in the package.

Lightly oil or grease the inside of a large bowl.

To make the dough, combine flours, wheat germ, and salt in a bowl.  I used my Kitchen Aid mixer fitted with a dough hook, but a wooden spoon will work just fine.  Pour in the yeast once it has proofed and knead on low speed until well combined.

To shape the dough, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.  I found it pretty sticky still so have the flour near by to coat your hands.  Knead the dough by using the heel of your hand to compress and push the dough away from you, and then fold it back over itself.  Give the dough a small turn and repeat until the dough is smooth and elastic, it was a little over 5 minutes for me.  The dough is ready when it bounces back when pressed with your fingers.

Place the dough in the oiled bowl.  Cover with a dry towel and let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about an hour.

While you are waiting, lightly oil or grease the insides of two 9 x 5-inch loaf pans.

Turn the dough out onto the floured surface, and punch down.  Halve the dough; flatten one piece an oval and roll up lengthwise.  Place the roll, seam side down, into one of the prepared pans.  Repeat with the remaining dough.  Cover the loaves with a dry towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

To bake the loaves, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Bake until deep golden brown, it took just over about 50 minutes.  The loaves will sound hollow when tapped on the top.  Transfer the pans to a wire rack, and let cool for 5 minutes.  Invert the loaves onto the rack to cool completely.

Once cool, be sure to wrap the loaves securely, (if you don’t eat it all in one sitting) so it doesn’t go stale quickly.  You can also wrap in aluminum and plastic wrap to freeze.  This is really easy.  You are going to want to do it again.

 This recipe is from a cookbook by Virginia Willis.  It is one of those cookbooks filled with stories and warm descriptions that I like to read in bed.  Weird, I know... Regardless of where it is read, I think you will enjoy this book.  You will also enjoy how wonderful your house smells when you bake your own bread.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Secret Wrapped in a Tortilla

My family has a secret.  We don't always make our fajitas wholly from scratch.  We sometimes use a pre-marinated package of fajita meat from the Texas grocery store, HEB.  If you live in Texas and haven't tried them yet, you are missing out on something good.  Don't get me wrong, I make my own marinade for fajitas and it is delicious.  But, they work really well when you have a craving for fajitas for dinner, but it is already evening and you don't have time to marinate.  We all know that unmarinated fajitas just won't do.

You can choose from beef skirt steak, chicken thighs or breasts, and pork loin.  Pick them up with some fresh corn and flour tortillas from the HEB bakery, and you are set for a feast.  They come out of the plastic in large pieces for easy grilling and turn out tender and ready to slice and serve.  I wish for these easy fajitas pretty regularly here in DC.

During our long weekend visit, we made the beef and pork.  My dad grilled the meat over mesquite wood.  It smelled absolutely wonderful and just glistened when he brought it inside to slice.

We picked onions and bell pepper from my parents' garden to saute. 

With guacamole and grated blanco queso for additional toppings and spanish-style rice as a side, we stuffed ourselves silly.  Each mouthful was tender and rich in flavor.  These premarinated meats avoid some of the pitfalls you find with other fajitas...the marinade doesn't overpower the meat flavor and you don't have trouble tearing into each bite with your teeth.

I prefer beef fajitas with cheese and guacamole in flour tortillas and pork meat with onions and bell peppers in corn tortillas, but everyone has their individual preference.  

I'm completely dissatisfied with the tortilla selection here in the DC area, so I'm going to start practicing to make my own tortillas soon.  You will be able to read all about it here.  Advice is welcome.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Beer Review: Shiner's Kosmos Reserve


Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas holds a special place in my heart.  Shiner Bock was the first beer I purchased legally (and probably first illegally, too).  I loved that it tasted different than most things on the market and it meant a lot to me that it was from my home state.

I found it difficult the first time I moved East, as Shiner beer was not widely available outside of Texas.  Not being able to enjoy Shiner just added to my homesickness.  The Gambrinus Company nows owns the brewery and the beer is sold in almost every state in the US.  My husband and I are able to drink Shiner Bock just about any time we want.

It is harder to find the other styles of Shiner beer, however.  While we were in Texas this weekend, I was able to enjoy a wider selection of Shiner beers, beyond the most popular Bock.  My dad picked up a Shiner Family Pack - a six pack with one bottle each of their active beers: Shiner Bock, Shiner Light, Shiner Blonde, Shiner Hefeweizen, Shiner Bohemian Black Lager, and Shiner Kosmos Reserve.

I believe Shiner Kosmos debuted in 1999, but disappeared for about a decade.  It is named after the very special brewmaster who led the brewery through Prohibition and helped the brand develop a loyal following across Texas.  It is an American Pale Lager and is available only in the mixed 6-packs and 12-packs.

It has a hoppy and flowery flavor with a thin, almost seltzer-like feel.  Its drinkability helps it pair well with food, but I enjoyed it on its own to quench my thirst after the long plane ride.  I recommend drinking it straight out of the bottle, as I did.  Prosit!

If you want to learn more about Shiner beers and the Spoetzl brewery, read the book Shine On by Mike Renfro.

Friday, April 23, 2010

We Find Ourselves in a Pickle

Husband and I are back in Texas for a few days visiting my parents.  When asked what we want to do while we are here, we both replied "Eat." We share the goal of eating as much Gulf shrimp, Texas barbeque, and Mexican food as possible.

It is a real dilemma trying to facilitate so many meals of all the South Texas goodness while still fitting into our clothes and conversing with family.  I mean, we were raised to not talk with our mouth full, but we keep filling our mouths, so it is tricky.

Upon hearing our request, Mom wisely chose a light, refreshing meal for our first homemade dinner.  She knows how to help us pace ourselves through a weekend of gluttony, and she knows I only like shrimp fresh from the Gulf of Mexico.

Mom made pickled shrimp, or Camarones Estilo Barbachano Ponce.  She modified a recipe from the New York Times Menu Cookbook by Craig Claiborne.  It was fairly easy to put together and she was able to prepare it for us the night before so she could focus on visiting with us.

Camarones Estilo Barbachano Ponce (Pickled Shrimp)
6 to 8 servings

2 lbs raw shrimp
1 carrot, peeled and cut into thin strips
1 celery rib with leaves
1 bay leaf
1 small dried hot pepper
6 peppercorns
1 tsp salt, or more
1/4 cup thinly sliced onion (slices should be almost transparent)
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup vinegar
1 garlic clove, finely minced
2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
Chopped parsley
1 ripe avocado,  peeled, seeded, and cubed

Remove the shells and tails and discard.   Rinse the shrimp under water and set aside.

Put enough water to eventually cover the shrimp in a saucepan and add the carrot, celery, bay leaf, hot pepper, peppercorns, and salt.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

While simmering, combine the onion slices, oils, vinegar, garlic, tomatoes, and salt to taste in a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Add the shrimp to the boiling water and cook for no more five minutes after the liquid returns to a boil.  It took Mom about 4 minutes this time.  (You can't rely on color because some shrimp is already pink, but it should no longer be translucent.)   Drain the shrimp and while still warm add them to the mixing bowl with the oil and vinegar mixture.  Gently mix together.  Cover and chill for about 12 hours.

Before putting it on the table, sprinkle the shrimp mixture with black pepper and parsley.  You could mix in the cubed avocado, but our fruit was really ripe and we feared it would get mushy in the mixture.  So instead, we put the cubed avocado directly on our plates and spooned the shrimp mixture on top, or you could do the reverse.  We served it with French bread with garlic butter and fresh melon.  If you have any leftover shrimp, you can serve the next day on plates of lettuce for a nice starter salad.

On to our next meal...stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Book Review: How to Pick a Peach

I grew up eating fruits and vegetables from our family gardens or from a local farmer's market. Frankly, it spoiled me.  My palate knows what a vegetable should taste like and knows how good freshly picked fruit can be.  Because of that lucky experience, I've never really been satisfied with produce from the grocery store. Russ Parson's How to Pick a Peach: The Search for Flavor From Farm to Table helps me understand why.

Parsons, food editor for the LA Times, explains the reasoning behind buying produce locally and in-season.  He details the conflict between growing produce for sturdiness in shipping instead of flavor, and it is clear what we are missing in the grocery stores.  Within commercial agriculture the author writes, "there are significant rewards for growing more fruit, but there are precious few for growing better fruit."  Farmers who have the talent to grow flavorful produce and put in the effort to keep them that way, are almost forced to go outside the normal supply chain, usually farmers' markets to sell directly to the consumer.

The book doesn't include every single fruit or vegetable, but it hits on good number of them.  Organized by season, the book includes an interesting short history on each item and describes various farming trends.  I was intrigued that several examples of marketplace success of imported fruit altered how our domestic farmers grew some types of produce, especially tomatoes and apples.  There is still hope for folks who can't buy directly from the farmer.

Parsons helps arm his readers with some basic information about how to choose produce, how to store them once they are home, and then shares suggestions on basic preparation. I appreciated understanding the science behind how certain growing,  storing, and cooking methods contribute to the flavor and texture of my food.

If you start with good ingredients you can finish with great tasting food.  This book was fun to read and will serve me well as a useful reference.  I'm ready to hit the farmers' markets and pick-your-own farms, but I'm also willing to start telling grocery produce managers what I want to see.  I hope you'll join me.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Brown Bananas

I didn't like bananas as a kid. Even when my grandmother told me how good they were to eat and attempted to ply with me her homemade banana pudding with Nilla wafers. I just didn't like them.

Defying logic, however, I did like my mother's banana nut bread. Maybe it was the pecans, maybe it was the change to the chemistry of the fruit with baking, or maybe it was the cream cheese she spread on each slice. Regardless, I was hooked.

I've improved my attitude about bananas somewhat since reaching adulthood, and even willingly purchase them at the store, especially since my husband likes them in his lunch. I still don't like eating them straight out of the peel, though, and I absolutely cannot stand the mushy texture of an overripe banana. But, that is the perfect texture needed for Mom's banana nut bread.

Apparently, I was a bit exuberant in my last food shopping trip and I noticed several quickly browning bananas on the kitchen counter last night. What a perfect way to end our weekend....filling the house with the smell of banana bread. Yum.

Here's how to do the same at your place...

Banana Nut Bread
3/4 cup oil
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbsp sour milk (or buttermilk or yogurt) (See Note)
2 large mashed bananas
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Cream sugar and oil. Add the egg and stir to blend. Sift dry ingredients together and add to the wet mix. Add the sour milk and bananas. I usually mash my bananas in a separate bowl with a potato masher before adding to the mix.

Pour the mixture into greased 5x9 loaf pan. Bake for about 1 hour at 350 degrees F.

NOTE: Sour milk does not equal spoiled milk. To make sour milk, add a couple of drops of white vinegar or lemon juice to the three tablespoons of milk. Let it stand about 5 minutes. Carbon dioxide is created by the reaction of the acid in the sour milk and the alkali of the baking soda. It makes the batter lighter and more airy. You can certainly use regular milk for this recipe, but the bread turns out a bit more dense.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Blue Bell Ice Cream Alert


Here's an alert for all our Indy readers....Blue Bell ice cream is now available in all Meijer stores in Indianapolis, Indiana.

You can read more about it at:

Blue Bell is a Texas brand ice cream, and not available here in DC. If you haven't had a chance to try it, I wholeheartedly recommend it. It is absolutely beloved by all Texans, and the company slogan is "We eat all we can and we sell the rest."

When I was a kid, I would joke with my mom that I wanted to hijack a Blue Bell ice cream delivery truck. I also used to regularly come up with new ice cream flavors and send the company suggestion letters. Alas, chocolate strawberry chunk and chocolate pecan-oatmeal cookie only existed in my mind until I got my own ice cream maker. (Do you detect a theme?) Maybe someday...sigh...

Now, don't stop with just a taste of the ice cream. I also recommend next time you are in Austin or Houston that you make a day trip to Brenham and tour the Blue Bell Creamery. It is awesome! The tour includes a free generous-sized sample of any flavor you want, and you get a paper hat. How cool is that?

I understand that there is now a production facility in Sylacauga, Alabama, too. I'll get my brother and his girlfriend (who is from the Yellowhammer State) to check that out for us and report back.

Friday, April 16, 2010

To Market, To Market...

I've been jonesing for fresh spring produce, but it is still a bit early here in the DC area. Relief will come soon, though. We are planning a trip down to Texas next week when I'll get to raid my parents' garden and eat things that we won't get here for a few more months. In the meantime, I thought perhaps I could somewhat satisfy my craving by visiting a farmer's market and seeing what they had on tap.

You can find a farmer's market in your area by visiting the US Department of Agriculture's website.

I decided to investigate a market that I had not yet seen on our side of town. (Yep, even out here on the east side...) Well, it is was rather slim pickings with one farm represented, but they were friendly and they brought some good stuff. It was mainly the tail end of winter vegetable harvest, but I know more is on the way.

Check out some of what I got...

I believe the variety of winter spinach I got is Bloomsdale; it is dark-green and crinkled, not like the pointed, smooth-leafed kind I usually see in bags at the supermarket. I felt it would not keep that long, so I wanted to use it right away.

I sought inspiration from Jacques Pepin, (Shout-out to fellow fan and friend, Andrea!) and decided to make a potato and spinach galette. The word galette denotes a flattish, disk-shaped pancake. It has garlic flavored spinach sandwiched between panfried potatoes. (It reminds me a bit of Potatoes Anna that my brother loves, so I will post that recipe another time in the future.)

I made this galette as a side dish with meatloaf (which I turned into sandwiches this morning with vidalia onion slices, see above), but it is hearty enough to be a main course with a green salad or could be included in a brunch. You want to use a nonstick skillet or omelet pan (make sure they are oven-safe) or a cast-iron skillet as I did.

Here's the how-to...

Potato and Spinach Galette
1 pound spinach
1 1/2 pounds potatoes
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
garlic, to taste (my husband and I usually like more garlic than the average person so I won't trouble you with our measurements, but you want to start with at least 1 Tbsp)
salt and pepper

If you plan to bake the galette right away, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. I removed the stems from the spinach and threw away any leaves that were wilted. I also needed to thoroughly wash the spinach. The crinkles were pretty sandy.

I washed and peeled the potatoes, then sliced them thinly with my mandolin. (Thanks, Mom and Dad!) I washed the slices, drained them, and patted them dry with paper towels.

In the 10-inch skillet, I heated 1 Tbsp of the oil with the butter until hot. I added the potatoes, and seasoned them with salt and pepper. Saute over medium high heat until all slices are coated with oil and butter and they are becoming transparent. I kept stirring to move the potatoes, but next time I might put the potato slices into the skillet in two batches. I transferred them to a plate and put them aside so I could use the skillet for the spinach.

Put another tablespoon of oil in the pan, add garlic and quickly add the spinach. The garlic will cook really fast and you don't want to burn it. I added a little more salt and pepper and sauted until the spinach was wilted. It was not more than 2 minutes. Take it out of the skillet and set aside.

I then turned off the heat, but I didn't take the skillet off the burner. Add the last tablespoon of oil, and arrange a layer of potato slices across the bottom of the pan. Make two layers of potatoes, using half of the slices. Spread the spinach across the potatoes, and then cover it with the remaining potatoes. You could can prepare the dish up to the point several hours ahead. Just cover the skillet and keep in refrigerator. I wouldn't recommend making it more than 6 or 8 hours ahead of time, though.

Put the skillet in the 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes. With the dark, cast-iron skillet, this wasn't necessary, but you may want to put the skillet back on the stove top after baking. If you put it on a burner over medium high for 2 or 3 minutes you can ensure the bottom layer is browned.

Once done, invert the galette onto a large plate and cut into wedges. This picture doesn't really do the dish justice. I promise to work on my picture-taking if you take my word that it looked as good as it tasted, and we enjoyed it.

The recipe is from the cookbook Jacques Pepin's Table.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Beer Review: Starr Hill's Northern Lights

Have you tried this yet?
Northern Lights

If you are a fan of IPA, I think you will like this one. Starts with just the right amount of hoppy bitterness and finishes smooth and a little sweet with a subtle citrus throughout.

I recommend serving this beer in a tulip-shaped glass - snifter or over-sized wine glass to get the full effect of the hops and the head.

Starr Hill Brewery is located outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. They supposedly provide unlimited free tastings after brewery tours. Hubby and I will have to check that out...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Lighter Side of Breakfast

Breakfast is important to me. I'm just not myself without starting my day with coffee, a newspaper, and a little something to eat. Just ask my husband... However, I don't usually like a heavy meal in the morning, so muffins are perfect. I can make them one morning and they last for several days and provide just the right amount of sustenance.

This recipe is a favorite in our fact, my husband regularly requested them when we were dating.

Oat Bran Applesauce Muffins
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups oat bran cereal (I use Hodgson Mill)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs or 4 egg whites
1 cup applesauce
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 Tbsp flaxseed meal

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line 12 muffin cups with paper, or grease muffin cups. Mix all ingredients until well-blended. Spoon into muffin tin and bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

These are best warm. You can expect them to keep for two to three days in an airtight container.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Book Review: United States of Arugula

Have you read this? 

Never before has a civilization had so much access to so great a variety of foodstuffs. David Kamp knows how we came to be here. In The United States of Arugula: How We Became A Gourmet Nation, Kamp examines how we went from a nation of Jell-O salads and Shake N’Bake to the gourmet-loving country we are today.

The United States of Arugula chronicles America's biggest and most influential culinary personalities and describes the dramatically changes to the landscape of American food. The stars of the story are food pioneers Craig Claiborne, James Beard, and Julia Child, or as he refers to them, “the Big Three”. Kamp supplies an engaging account of their careers and explains how they shaped much of what we know of cooking today. Each paved the way for those who followed - Child as the early TV pioneer who made French-style cooking accessible to housewives across the country; Beard as the author of several best-selling cookbooks, some still considered definitive; and Claiborne as the first food critic for the New York Times and also a cookbook author - all redefining our views of gastronomy over the years.

Kamp continues the attention on the personalities that dominate the culinary world with several pages on Alice Waters and her focus on fresh and seasonal cuisine that created a shift from technique to ingredients. The revolution she started with her menus at the legendary Chez Panisse restaurant also induced a perceptual geographic shift from the East to the West Coast, and contributed to organic produce and free-range chickens entering our collective conversations. We also learn how Whole Foods, Zabar's, Dean & DeLuca, and Williams Sonoma got started and find out that Peet’s Coffee in the Bay Area led to Starbucks across the country. Chefs Jeremiah Tower, Thomas Keller, and Wolfgang Puck make cameo appearances.

I most enjoyed the book when Kamp makes parallels between culinary trends and the consumerism that has evolved since World War II. He shows how the prevailing French influence was not accidental, as it came about with the influx of kitchen workers from France after the war and continues today to what kitchenware we purchase. Leveraging the writings of others who recognized aspects of the same phenomenon, the author accurately shows how food has become a status symbol on our culture for the good life to which we aspire.

In the book's final section, the advent of the Food Network is seen as a touchstone for this pervasive thinking, as a new set of celebrity chefs - Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, and Rachael Ray among them - instruct us on what we should be doing to maximize our enjoyment of cooking in the kitchen.

This is certainly a fun read for any foodie, and author David Kamp, a writer who contributes to Vanity Fair and GQ, does an entertaining job of providing both a historical perspective and a current look at the culinary industry.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bring Forward Leftover Rice

My mother's family referred to leftovers as brought-forwards. You know, bring it forward from the back of the refrigerator...I think of it also as bringing forward a new taste and giving an ingredient or ingredients another opportunity to shine and bring you joy.

That is what I decided to do with our leftover brown rice. I brought it forward and turned it into coconut rice pudding. It was delicious.

Coconut Rice Pudding
2 cups cooked brown rice
2 cups milk
1 to 1 1/2 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup sugar
pinch salt
1/2 cup raisins
1 tsp or more of almond extract or amaretto
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup toasted coconut

Combine cooked rice, milk, coconut milk, sugar, and salt in medium saucepan. Bring to boil, then lower heat to simmer and stir in raisins and almond extract. Keep stirring to break down rice and make creamy. You may want to add a bit more milk to make it the consistency you prefer. Cook until almost all the liquid is absorbed, at least 30 minutes, depending on how absorbent your rice is. Stir in cinnamon and toasted coconut. Divide rice pudding into individual serving dishes serve warm or chilled.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Hot Cross Morning

I asked my husband if he wanted anything special for Easter, and he replied he wanted Hot Cross Buns for Easter breakfast. He knows that question always means what does he want me to cook or bake...

I could not remember ever making Hot Cross Buns before. I'm sure my mother made them for us, and I likely helped, but I never made them as an adult.

Like many times before, I did some research and pieced together a recipe...

Hot Cross Buns
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
4 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg for dough, 1 large egg for brushing
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/2 cup currants
Milk and confectioner's sugar for icing/glaze - amount depends on texture you prefer

Combine water and milk in saucepan and warm until about 100 degrees F. Remove from heat and sprinkle yeast and pinch of sugar over surface of liquid. Set aside with out stirring, until foamy and rising up the sides of the pan, about 30 minutes.

Whisk the butter, 1 egg, and vanilla into the yeast mixture.

Stir the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and cardamom in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add the yeast mixture. Stir to make thick, slightly sticky dough. Stir in currants. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until soft and elastic. You may have to add more flour. Shape into a ball.

Brush the inside a large bowl with butter. Put dough in bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled in size. It look a little over an hour.

Turn out dough and divide into 12 equal portions and make into round rolls. Place them in a buttered 9 x 13 inch baking pan, leaving a little space in between each roll. Cover the pan and let rise until the rolls almost reach rim of pan, more than doubled. It took about 45 minutes.

Brush buns with beaten egg. Bake in preheated 375 degree oven until brown and puffy, about 25 minutes.

For the glaze, stir together confectioner's sugar and milk until smooth. Use a pastry bag or zip-loc bag to ice buns in a thick cross shape over the top of the warm buns.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Whiskey Punch for Easter

Punch is a big hit in our house. We try to always have a flowing bowl each time we have guests.

For our Easter dinner, I decided to make a whiskey punch. Everyone enjoyed it, even folks who were hesitant because they aren't fans of whiskey. Crazy, right?

The punch was a lovely golden color and I used orange and lemon slices to garnish. To keep the punch cold, I made ice blocks in washed and reused milk and juice cartons.

Here's the recipe, but keep in mind I don't normally advocate use of juice concentrate, but I was making a lot of goodies for our meal, and it was really easy to use frozen lemonade. Plus, I don't think the taste suffers quite as much for lemonade as other flavors.

Whiskey Punch
1 can of frozen lemonade (I prefer Minute Maid)
3 cups of orange juice
18 ounces of pineapple juice
2 liters of ginger ale
1 pint of whiskey
1/2 cup of simple syrup

I combined the juices, whiskey, and simple syrup ahead of time to meld flavors and kept everything in the refrigerator. Just before serving, I placed the ice blocks and fruit slices in the punch bowl. I gave the mixture one last stir in the refrigerator pitcher, then poured over the ice. Finally, I added the 2 liter bottle of ginger ale.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Lemon Meringue Memories

I was feeling nostalgic as I planned our Easter meal, so I decided to make a couple of pies that my grandmother always made - Chocolate and Lemon Meringue.

I couldn't find her recipe for Lemon Meringue, so I tried to re-create it based on some online research.

I felt sure it would come out well. I mean, look at how pretty it looks. And, my husband and I had a lot of fun making it together. However, once we sliced it for our guests, it was still a bit soupy. Any advice or suggestions are welcome. Here's what we did...

Lemon Meringue Pie
Makes 1 9-inch pie

4 egg yolks
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbsp butter
juice of two lemons (about 1/2 cup)
zest of 1 lemon
1 9-inch pre-baked pie shell

Whisk egg yolks and set aside. In medium saucepan, whisk together cornstarch, water, sugar, and salt. Turn heat on medium, and stirring frequently, bring to a boil. Boil for at least 1 minute. Remove from heat and use it gradually to temper the egg yolks.

Return egg mixture to saucepan, turn down heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, for at least one more minute. Remove from heat and add butter, lemon juice, and zest until well combined.

Pour mixture into shell and top with meringue while filling is still hot. Bake for 12 minutes until meringue is golden.

We cooled the pie on a rack, and then kept in overnight in a pie carrier in the refrigerator. The meringue didn't weep much at all and the flavor was pretty nice, but the filling sure was runny.

To make meringue topping: You can use a meringue powder, but I used the whites from the 4 egg yolks that were used for the filling.  Make sure your bowl if very clean and dry and there are no yolk remnants so as not to interfere with foaming.  Whip egg whites and 1/8 tsp of cream of tarter for each white.  I used a hand-held mixer and whip until stiff peaks form.  Stiff peaks hold their shape and form when the egg white foam is glossy and clings to the bowl.

To prevent weeping from meringues, be careful not to underwhip or overwhip the egg whites.  Also apply the meringue to a lukewarm (neither cold nor hot) filling.