Thursday, April 16, 2015

Romania Spring Braid with the Babes

Welcome to my Kitchen! This month it's the Kitchen of the Month for the Bread Baking Babes. After spending some very delightful time looking at various bread recipes, I decided that since Easter and spring were going to be here during the bread baking time for April that I would invite all of the Babes around the kitchen table to have fun with a Romanian Easter Braid. Even if Easter isn't your thing, this braid is delicious with its nut filling and spring time flavors of butter, egg, and lemon. I like the idea of filling the braid ropes. Wasn't sure how it would actually go, but that's part of the fun, isn't it?

The description of the recipe in The Festive Bread Book, by Kathy Cutler talks about "The delicious walnut filling" but the recipe calls for ground almonds. I suspect that you could use any ground nut you desire...walnut, almond, pecan, hazelnut...and you will get a nice filling. The full description is, " the delicious walnut filling of this bread helps make it a Romanian classic. Serve it as a snack or with Easter dinner." It doesn't have any icing, so it may be a bread that is somewhat unsweetened. You can always add a sweet glaze and/or nuts once the baked bread has cooled if you prefer it a bit sweeter.

The Wiki information is interesting: " In Romania, the recipes differ rather significantly between regions in what concerns the trimmings. The dough is essentially similar throughout the country: a plain sweet bread made with flour, eggs, milk, butter, sugar and salt. Depending on the region, one may add to it any of the following: raisins,... grated orange or lemon rind, walnuts or hazelnuts, vanilla or rum flavour.

Cozonac, (the Romanian bread for Easter similar to Italian pannettone), may be sprinkled with poppy seeds on top. Other styles dictate the use of a filling, usually a ground walnut mix, ground poppy seeds mixture, cocoa powder, rum essence and raisins. The dough is rolled flat with a pin, the filling is spread and the whole is rolled back into a shape vaguely resembling a pinwheel. In the baked product the filling forms a swirl adding to the character of the bread."  Apparently there is also a Christmas version with dried and/or candied fruit included.

It sounds like this version is the braid that uses lemon rind and a nut filling. Maybe the author prefers almonds to walnuts or poppy seed. I know that we Babes are a creative bunch, so this recipe leaves plenty of room for creativity and should yield a nice loaf for any spring celebration.

Be sure to check out what the other Babes have done with this recipe, then make it yourself. To become a Buddy and get a badge for your blog, just e-mail me by April 29th at elle dot lachman at gmail dot com. Include a photo of your bread and a short description of your baking experience and I'll include you in the round-up. I know Easter has come and gone, but it's still spring and this bread is one your family will love...and pretty. Come join the fun...I know you want to.

This braid has a fairly rich dough, including both butter and eggs, and it has a nut-based filling. After making it and eating a slice the morning I made it, I think the next time I make it that I will spread a thin layer of softened butter on the dough before putting on the filling and I will increase the filling by half as much again to allow for a thicker layer of filling and a bit more flavor. In addition I'm going to increase the citrus zest (I used orange) to twice the amount called for in both the dough and the filling. I might also increase the salt by a 1/4 teaspoon to 3/4 teaspoon...the dough was just a tiny bit flat tasting and I think that will take care of that. The crumb was great and so was the crust. I made a quick glaze of a small amount of hot milk, 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar and a few drops almond extract to be drizzled over the top, then scattered on a few sliced almonds. Made for a pretty loaf and went well with the other flavors in the braid.

After reading over the recipe I just couldn't add yeast to a mixture that was going to be heated to such a high heat, so I put the yeast in 1/4 cup tepid water to proof, then added it to the milk/butter/egg mixture when the mixture had cooled to 100 degrees F before adding all of it to the dry mixture as the recipe calls for. I did mix everything by hand (no stand mixture) and it really is a lovely dough to knead for a while. I let mine sit in the fridge for a day before rolling out and shaping, then again overnight so that I could bake it this morning (it warmed up and did the final proofing this morning) which worked well. Nice oven spring, too. Because I used a little additional liquid in proofing the yeast, I decreased the milk by the same amount. As a result the flour called for was just about right.

Really yummy still slightly warm and taken with a nice hot cup of coffee! Love the swirls of filling...but I wanted more filling. My original plans to bake it again with friends was ruined by my coming down with a case of the flu.

Here are the links for the other Babes:

BakeMy Day  -  Karen
Blog from OUR Kitchen -  Elizabeth
Bread Experience -  Cathy
Girlichef -  Heather
Life's a Feast -  Jaime
Lucullian Delights -  Ilva
My Diverse Kitchen - Aparna
My Kitchen in Half Cups - Tanna
Notitie van Lien - Lien

Romanian Easter Braid
makes one loaf
from The Festive Bread Book, by Kathy Cutler
3 1/2 - 4 cups flour, divided
1/2 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest (or use orange zest)
2/3 cup milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs

1/3 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup finely ground almonds (or walnuts, poppy seeds, etc)
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest (or use orange zest)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons milk

Combine 2 cups flour , the yeast, and lemon zest in mixing bowl.

Heat milk, butter, sugar and salt until butter melts; remove from heat and let cool until it reaches 105 - 115 degrees F.

Add milk mixture and eggs to dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly.

Add enough remaining flour to form a soft dough. Knead on lightly floured surface until smooth - about 10 minutes.

Place in greased bowl, turning to coat top. Cover; let rise in warm place until double - about 1 hour.

Punch down dough. Divide dough into 3 equal pieces. Roll each into a 7 x 16-inch rectangle.

Use 1/3 of filling one each rectangle, spreading filling, but leaving a margin around edges; roll up jelly-roll style. Seal seam and ends. You will have three filled and sealed ropes.

Braid ropes; place on greased baking sheet.

Cover; let rise in warm place until double - about 30 minutes.

Make glaze and brush on loaf.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for 40 minutes or until done. Cool on wire rack.

(Optional: Make a sweet glaze with 1 tablespoon warm milk and enough powdered sugar to make a drizzle glaze. Drizzle cooled bread and then sprinkle with sliced almonds, for decoration, while glaze is still wet. Let dry.)

Monday, April 13, 2015

Using Sweetie's Sandwich Press

Sweetie loves panini type sandwiches and recently bought a sandwich press that is similar. I think true panini presses put grill marks on the sandwich and this one has flat plates, so you get a good golden brown crust but no grill marks. It is electric and very light and we even found a place to store it right below the microwave oven.

Today I decided to see if I could concoct a sandwich for lunch that would use up some grilled chicken breast. I put a very light coating of butter on two sides of the bread, then stacked them butter sides together. I built the sandwich on the top, unbuttered side. First I spread on a thin coat of pesto, then crumbled on some feta cheese. This was topped by some roasted red pepper and then the chicken breast. It was thick, so I sliced it through the middle and put each piece on half the sandwich. Ready for the grill.

It was the work of only a few minutes to use the sandwich press to not only grill the bread (buttered sides), but to flatten the sandwich, too. I love my grilled sandwiches flattened.

The result was delicious! Melted feta, warm pesto and pepper and chicken, crunchy toasted bread on the outside. Easy and fun.

For those who are following things, Sweetie is now over his cold/flu and out mowing the grass around the house. I'm almost over it (just a slight cough left) and I got in some weeding today. Eye glasses are ordered in should be here in a couple of weeks. This week I'll be posting a wonderful bread (and I'm the Kitchen of the Month, so I got to choose the recipe) on the 16th and a delicious cake on the 20th, so be sure to check back on those days.

Friday, April 10, 2015


When I was growing up pancakes were part of a special breakfast, but not rare, at least as far as I remember. Waffles, on the other hand, were very special, perhaps because my Mom made the recipe that included stiffly beaten egg whites for giving the waffles both crispness and height. When you make the batter that way, it takes extra time to separate the eggs and an extra bowl to beat up the whites, so it is not the easiest thing to do. Pancakes depend on a chemical reaction, usually baking powder, for their loft, so they are quick and easy.

Now that it is finally strawberry time with local berries available on Hwy. 12, in my mind it is also waffle season. My lovely neighbor brought us a basket of berries and a jar of freshly made strawberry jam. Those are all the toppings necessary for the right waffle. So what's the right waffle? A waffle that is made with yeast and that you start the night before gets my vote. It's a Mollie Katzen recipe and it is called, with good reason, The Amazing Overnight Waffle. Because the yeast causes the batter to rise once it hits the hot waffle iron, no extra work with beaten egg whites is necessary. You do have to melt some butter before plugging in the waffle iron in the morning, and, once the butter cools, add an egg, then stir that mixture into the batter, but that is the work of just a few moments.

The waffles are really crisp and lovely on the outside and tender on the inside. They are just fine with maple syrup and butter, have been made by me with blueberries scattered over the batter once it goes into the hot waffle iron (as in photo above), would be super with crumbled bacon used the same way, but are out of this world wonderful topped with strawberries...and a few dots of fresh strawberry jam.

These waffles are amenable to having part of the flour be whole wheat if you want a more earthy flavor. A sprinkle of flax seeds would add some heart healthy nutrition, too. I've even made these in a gingerbread version! Just remember to start the batter the night before and leave it, covered, on the counter so the yeast has time to work it's magic. Once you see how easy they are and taste your first bite, you'll agree that they are amazing.

Amazing Overnight Waffles
from Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Cafe' Cookbook

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg (I used ¼ cup egg substitute)
Nonstick spray
Butter for the waffle iron
Sliced strawberries – optional, but nice

Combine the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl Add the milk and whisk until blended. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand overnight at room temperature (or put in the fridge if room temp. is over 70 degrees F.)

The next morning, preheat the waffle iron. Melt the 6 tablespoons butter and let cool a bit. Beat the egg is a small bowl (unnecessary if using egg substitute) then beat it into the batter along with the melted butter. The batter may be a bit thin.

Lightly spray the hot waffle iron with non stick spray, top and bottom plates, and then butter a piece of bread and use that to rub some butter on top and bottom plates.

Add just enough batter to cover the cooking surface…this varies by waffle iron…about 2/3 cup. Lower the top and cook until golden brown…it’s OK to check now and then, but while there is still a lot of steam coming out the sides of the iron, you may want to wait before lifting the lid. It takes about 2-3 minutes. You want it golden brown, but not too dark a brown.

Serve hot, right away, with strawberries and jam, or maple syrup, or toppings of your choice.

Note; If you have too many waffles for the number of people you are feeding, bake the leftover batter a little less than the ones you are eating, let cool on a baking rack, then freeze and store in the freezer tightly wrapped. Re-heat in the toaster.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Rice As A Craft Medium - Who Knew?

There are lots of ways to enjoy creativity. Baking is one of mine. Crafting is one of my daughter's. This year she found an new way to add painterly depth to colored eggs that is easy and cleans up beautifully. The original idea came from seeing a video of a kit being used. The kit had dry rice, small tubes of dye, small foam containers with lids and instructions. Hard boiled eggs were added to the cups of dyed rice, the cover put on, and the container shaken until the dye had transferred from the rice to the egg shell.

We did a variation. You should probably get used to the phrase "a variation" since it gets used a lot on this blog. We dyed the cooked eggs with standard tablet style Easter egg dyes, but then did the rice bit. Instead of using cups, we used self-closing baggies (ziploc bags), with about 1/3 cup dry rice and a generous amount of gel food color added.

First we mixed the dye and rice, then added the egg.

Shaking gave them the dappled and speckled finish.

For the red one we even put it in the blue dye bag briefly, so there are little bluish specks here and there...really pretty. Of course there is a fluffy (fake) chick to go with the eggs since it is Easter time.

I think my favorite is the yellow egg that went into a bag with orange dyed rice. It has an almost sponge painted look and is very cheerful.

If you do this yourself, get plenty of rice and a variety of gel colors. Make sure that they are food safe gel colors.

Have a sandwich baggie for each color.

Dye the eggs ahead of time or just start with white.

Either should give you an interesting finish.

Mix the gel color into the rice just before you plan to use it. The dry rice eventually soaks up all the dye and then not much gets transferred to the egg shell.

To clean up, put the dyed eggs in the fridge and seal and toss the dyed rice. Easy, not messy, and fun!

Thursday, April 02, 2015


Chicken soup...the time worn remedy for a cold. 

Well, I'm now to day six of a bad cold or the flu. Couldn't be the flu since I got my flu shot...or maybe this is a strain they left out. Hmmm. The doctors office said I should feel better in another couple of days, but good chicken soup would be insurance, right?, so it seemed like a good idea to have some. The packaged soup I've been having  just doesn't have the mojo that homemade chicken broth does, so I asked my sweet neighbor who raises chickens if she had any broth in the freezer...and she did. Wonderful, rich, organic broth that is as local as you can get.

Sweetie thawed out the broth for me and heated it up, too. I really don't have much energy, so I decided to go with a few items from the fridge and freezer, plus herbs.

I ladled some of her broth, heated until it almost boiled, on top of some frozen peas and frozen corn, then put in about 1/4 cup left over mashed Yukon potatoes, another ladle of broth, a few chunks of grilled chicken from last night (thanks Sweetie!), some dried thyme and a pinch of poultry seasoning and it looked just right. I added some more of that amazing chicken broth and heated the bowl up a bit in the microwave, then dug in. It might not cure me, but it sure made me feel loved.

You don't have to be sick to enjoy a simple, delicious soup like this (although it really helps to have a neighbor who is as good a cook and as nice as mine).

Achoooo. Excuse me...more tissues needed.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Orange Complements Chocolate In These Cookies

One of the pleasures of being a baker is spending time paging through cookbooks and surfing online on cooking sites to find ideas and recipes. Many experienced cooks then make little changes to the recipes they find to make the recipe their own. The important thing with baking recipes is to keep the proportions very close to or exactly like those in the recipe since baking is really chemistry and the right proportion of leaveners and salt and liquids to starches is important to avoid baked bricks or items that run all over the pan. An easy change is to swap out flavorings. Often you can jazz up a recipe by just exchanging almond extract for vanilla or coconut extract instead of lemon extract. Citrus zest...the colored part of the skin that has lots of essential another way of perking up a baked good.

These cookies are ones I found online at They were called the Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie and I was drawn to them because they make a soft cookie and that's the kind that Sweetie likes. I wasn't feeling like having nuts in them and I had a beautiful orange sitting on the window sill almost begging to be used, so I took out the nuts and added orange zest since I think that orange and chocolate is a great pairing. You may get a few less cookies without the nuts, or you can add in 1 cup chopped nuts of your choice as well as the orange zest, but these were really nice just the way I made them...soft, a little cakey in the center, crisp at the outer edges and truly delicious.

Because the garden continues to demand attention, today I planted some sprouted seeds of blue morning glories into pots. I had saved the seeds last fall from the plants that grew and twined around the tomatoes and the beans on the netting. They seem pretty vigorous so I hope to get enough plants to set out around this year's veggie seedlings in the next week or so. Hope you are thinking of growing something too. It's a great way to honor the coming of spring and having the mindfulness to keep plants going is a handy skill to develop. If you plant flowers you'll get something beautiful to make you smile and if you plant veggies, herbs or fruits you get the added bonus of something to eat.

Betty's Orange Chocolate Chip Cookies
a variation of a recipe found at

3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Make sure you have a couple of baking sheets/cookie sheets
In a large bowl, cream the sugars and the butter. Add the vanilla and egg. Mix thoroughly. Add the flour, baking soda, salt and orange zest. Stir until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Drop by generous 1 tablespoon dollops onto an ungreased baking sheet/cookie sheet, spacing 2 inches apart.

Bake 8 - 10 minutes until light brown. The center will be soft. Cool slightly on the pan, then transfer with a spatula to a cooling rack and finish cooling. Store in an airtight container.

Makes about 48 cookies.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Almost Like A Banana Split

It's almost spring! Yesterday I planted the first seedlings...snap peas...out in the garden and the rest of the seedlings are getting so big that I may just cross my fingers and hope there isn't a late frost and put them into the garden soon.

Another fun thing I did yesterday was to bake a cake for the month with the Cake Slice Bakers. My first plan was to make the Cinderella Cheesecake for Sweetie's birthday because he loves cheesecake and who can hate chocolate and peanut butter together? Unfortunately first I got sick and then he got sick and no cakes were made. The one that I made today, Banana Split Cake, had a lot of ingredients but it was much easier to put together than the cheesecake, plus I had all the ingredients.

This sweet little cake has all the flavors of a banana split...coconut and pineapple and nuts and the dairy flavor from cream cheese in the frosting, plus, of course, banana. I used dried cherries instead of the neon red ones in the jar because I'm not happy with eating all those chemicals, but otherwise kept to the recipe. I baked half the recipe in a small Bundt pan and gave half to the firemen next door who had been training so hard today, kept a piece for myself and gave the rest to neighbors. Sweetie is still feeling poorly so he didn't want any.

This is a moist cake with a loose crumb and it's very flavorful with all those yummy add-ins. You don't even need a mixer because the cake batter gets stirred together by hand. The frosting called for using a mixer but I went with a small whisk instead and it worked fine. That cream cheese frosting with the flavor of pineapple really goes well with the cake and looks pretty, too. I decided to top the cake simply with just chopped pecans, but you could go wild and use coconut, chocolate syrup or hot fudge, those neon cherries or anything else you like.

Do check out the other Cake Slice Bakers to see which of the recipes they chose to bake. There is a really nice assortment this month!

Small Banana Split Cake
based on recipe in The Southern Cake Book by Southern Living magazine
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup buttermilk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup mashed bananas (about 3 medium)
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1/2 cup chopped dried cherries (the original recipe calls for an 8 oz jar maraschino cherries, drained)
10 oz crushed pineapple in juice (7 oz when drained)
4 oz. packaged cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup powdered sugar
Garnishes: grated milk chocolate, chopped pecans, hot fudge sauce, maraschino cherries with stems, toasted sweetened flaked coconut

Note: I used dried cherries instead of the maraschino and added them with the pecans and coconut instead of with the pineapple. I added the vanilla to the egg mixture instead of after the bananas.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 6-cup Bundt pan. (If using a full size Bundt pan, double the ingredients.)
Combine flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.

In a smaller bowl combine eggs, oil, buttermilk and vanilla. Stir well with a fork to combine. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in mashed bananas, pecans, coconut and dried cherries.
Drain pineapple, reserving the juice. Gently press the pineapple between layers of paper towels. Stir pineapple into banana mixture. Spoon into prepared Bundt pan. Even the top and rap pan on counter or table twice to settle ingredients into Bundt grooves.
Bake at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes, or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool in pan on a wire rack 10 minutes.  Remove from pan and cool on wire rack until completely cool, about 1 hour.

Beat cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add sifted powdered sugar, beating at low speed until blended. Stir in  1 tablespoon of the reserved pineapple juice (and use rest of juice for another purpose). Pour frosting over cake and garnish as desired. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Playing in Tanna's Sandbox

If you have been following the Bread Baking Babes journey of bread making and fun, you know that Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups is our ringleader, calling us to play with bread and experiment with flours and seeds and techniques and then maybe even find a nice bottle of wine to go with that bread. This month Tanna invoked spring by inviting us to play in her sandbox and make a delightful loaf, Granary Bread. This is actually a sort of trademarked bread since there is a company in England that sells Granary Bread flour. The recipe calls for malted wheat flakes, too. Who knew that those flakes would be difficult to find?

A little sidebar on my month might be helpful here. Sweetie has been ferrying me around since late February because I finally had cataract surgery and the new glasses I will need in order to be safe to drive won't get to me for a while yet. I've also had a series of minor illnesses, so he was a trooper and actually hunted for the malted flakes for me...from store to store, with help from their workers. I really appreciate his help and am grateful that he did find some lovely crimped barley flakes, which made a lovely loaf. Barley malt syrup added the malt note and I had a bag of King Arthur Irish whole meal flour which I used, too. 

It may not have been the same as what I would get with the Granary flour, but it made a delicious loaf. Slices were awesome toasted and made great sandwiches, too.

Thank you Tanna for a wonderful recipe! All you potential Buddies, this is a great bread to have in your playground, too. Bake it up, take a photo or two and send an e-mail to Tanna before the 29th to be included in the round-up.

Be sure to check out the beautiful bread made by my fellow Babes:
Bake My Day  -  Karen
Blog from OUR Kitchen  -  Elizabeth
Bread Experience  -  Cathy
Girlichef  -  Heather
Life's a Feast  -  Jaime
Lucullian Delights  -  Ilva
My Diverse Kitchen  - Aparna
My Kitchen in Half Cups - Tanna
Notitie van Lien - Lien

I enjoyed making the Granary Bread but goofed when it came time to put it in the oven. It had a really nice dome over the top of the pan, but when I scored the top with the lame, the top deflated and didn't re-inflate in the oven, so the top was lop sided. Otherwise it was great - nice crust and moist close crumb inside, with lots of grain flavor.

Granary-Style Loaf

Recipe By:
Yield: 2 loaves


This is a bread beloved by the British. We call it "granary-style" loaf because Granary Flour is a proprietary brand sold by a specific company in England. But it's reasonably easy to replicate by the savvy bread baker. Here's our version, close to the English, a full-flavored bread with a hint of sweetness and a bit of crunch.

Ingredients (this is the list that I used, not the original...go to Tanna'ssite or King Arthur for the original):

2 cups lukewarm water
1 to 2 tablespoons barley malt syrup
1 cup barley flakes
1 cup King Arthur 100% White Whole Wheat Flour
1 cup KA Irish whole meal flour
1 scant tablespoon instant yeast
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 teaspoons salt
2 to 3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose
1 cup KA 9-grain bread


1. Pour the 2 cups of water into a mixing bowl. Stir in the barley malt syrup, barley flakes and white wheat flour plus whole meal flour. Mix in the yeast, and allow this sponge to work for 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Stir in the butter or oil, salt, 1 cup 9-grain flour and about 1 1/2 cups of the all-purpose or bread flour. Add flour slowly until you have a shaggy mass that begins to hold together and pull away from the sides of the bowl.

3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured or lightly greased work surface, and knead until it's cohesive. Give it a rest while you clean out and lightly oil your bowl. Continue kneading for several minutes, adding only enough flour (or oil) to keep the dough from sticking to you or the work surface.

4. Return the dough to the bowl, turning to coat all sides, cover the bowl with a damp towel or plastic wrap, and let the dough rise until it's doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours. Gently deflate the dough, cut it in half, and shape each half into a log. Place the logs in two lightly greased 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch bread pans. Allow the loaves to rise, covered, until they're about three-quarters of the way to doubled.

5. Bake the bread in a preheated 350°F oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf registers 190°F. Remove the bread from the oven, remove it from the pans, and transfer it to a wire rack to cool. (I took the bread out of the pan and placed it in the oven for another 5 minutes to get a good crust on the lower part before putting it on a rack to cool.)

Friday, March 13, 2015

No More Bisquick

I'm really not sure when it happened. For many years I know I made pancakes from scratch. After all, I have my Mom's recipe and if I get bored with that (although that is hard to imagine) I have Fanny Farmer and Joy of Cooking and Marion Cunningham to name a few places where I am sure to find a killer pancake recipe. Still, at some point I turned to the ease of Bisquick and sort of lost track of making plain pancakes from scratch. It may have been because Max loved pancakes and he could make them himself if there was Bisquick on hand. The mix makes OK pancakes, but they tend to be light on flavor and heavy in texture.

Recently I discovered that whenever we last used the packaged pancake mix Bisquick (and it must have been a while ago because I don't remember using it up) the box was emptied and none was bought to replace it. So I pulled down my copy of Classic Comfort Foods and whipped up a batch using Mom's tried and true recipe. What a difference. These were so flavorful and had a great texture...tender and a bit eggy and not to dry and cakey. I made the batter and Sweetie cooked them in the cast iron skillet and we served them with apple that I had cooked in water with a bit of a splash of real maple syrup. Just wonderful!


1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1¾ teaspoon baking powder
1 or 2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup milk

Sift together the dry ingredients. In another bowl  combine the egg(s), melted butter and milk.

Quickly, with a few strokes, stir the wet ingredient mixture into the dry mixture. If too thick, add up to ¼ cup additional milk. Lumps are OK.

Ladle batter on a hot, greased griddle. Turn when small bubbles appear around the edges. Cook until second side has browned. Repeat until batter is used up.

Serves 4 - 6.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Upscale Your Tuna Casserole

If you grew up in the U.S. during the 1950s or 60s there is a good probability that you have had a classic casserole of the time, Tuna Noodle Casserole (also called Toodleooo in our home). It is a combination of noodles, condensed cream soup...mushroom or celery usually...frozen peas and canned tuna. Sometimes a bread crumb or crushed potato chip topping would be added if it was baked. 

It was easy to make from pantry items, quick to go together and mild enough in flavor that most kids would eat it without too much complaint. It had just enough veggies that nothing else needed to be served with it and there wasn't too much clean up either. If you were really in a hurry, you could mix it all up in the pot the pasta was cooked in and serve it right from there, for a very easy and quick meal, but one with lots of carbs, fat, salt and maybe even mercury from the tuna.

Today I made a somewhat upscale version. Mine had whole wheat noodles, a homemade Parmesan cheese b├ęchamel sauce, sauteed fresh mushrooms and onions, leftover grilled ahi tuna and a topping of grated aged focaccia bread. Leftover ahi tuna? Really? Well, the only reason there was some was because I had the flu that night and really didn't eat anything. Sweetie had cooked for both of us thinking I was O.K., so there was a full portion left over. 

The only holdover from the old days were the frozen peas and carrots. The new and improved casserole had a flavor profile very similar to the old casserole, but it was like a comparison between the grated Parmesan in the green cardboard container and real Parmesan Reggiano.

The upscale version was head and shoulders above the old stuff. The noodles had some chew to them, the tuna was tender and flavorful and didn't smell or taste 'fishy', more like sea fragranced. The mushrooms and onions were caramelized and their intense flavor really added to the dish. I had seasoned them with a touch of thyme, too. The sauce was delightful and rich and you could really taste the true Parmesan. The crumbs on top had crisped up nicely in the oven during the short bake, which added a much needed textural contrast. All in all it was worth the extra effort. Comfort food can still be super delicious and this way I could leave out almost all the salt, something much more difficult with canned products. What a way to use leftover tuna!

Upscale Tuna Noodle Casserole

1 package whole wheat noodles
7 oz. grilled ahi tuna, no more cooked than medium rare
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon butter, divided
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1/4 - 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese - use the real stuff
salt and pepper to taste
2 oz. fresh mushrooms, chopped
1/2 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1 cup frozen peas and carrots
3 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs
olive oil

Cook whole wheat noodles as directed on the package until just al dente; drain.
While noodles are cooking, make sauce; in a medium saucepan melt 4 tablespoons of the butter. Stir in the flour and let cook 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the milk all at once, stirring, and cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens, about 3-5 minutes. Add the Parmesan cheese and stir until cheese melts. Place a piece of waxed paper or plastic wrap directly on the top of the hot sauce to keep it from making a skin on top. Set aside.

In a large skillet, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Sautee the mushrooms and onions until onions are deep golden brown and mushrooms have given up much of their moisture. Add a sprinkle of dried thyme if desired. Cover and set aside.

Separate tuna into flakes, mix with cream sauce, onion mixture, and noodles. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Add the peas and carrots to the tuna mixture and turn mixture into an oiled baking dish. Sprinkle top with crumbs. If not using focaccia crumbs, drizzle top with a little olive oil.
Bake in preheated 3750 oven for 15 minutes to heat through and crisp the topping.  Serves 3-4.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Italian With A Touch of Lemon

I've made focaccia bread before and shared it with you, too. I love that it is the kind of bread that is easy, delicious, and can be made ahead. This time I kept the beloved Italian features of olive oil and Parmesan cheese, but instead of herbs or grapes or other adornments, I celebrated citrus season with fresh Meyer lemon zest on top.

Because I needed to keep this bread for a number of days before I would be serving it, I froze it and then defrosted the loaf in the microwave on low power, then heated it at 225 degrees F. right before serving.  It makes a deeply flavored, moist bread and doesn't need any additional oil or butter. The recipe actually makes two loaves, so you can keep one in your freezer for when you need a bit of Italian delight.

Fast Focaccia with Lemon Zest

1 (1/4 ounce) packet active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 cups warm water (105-115 degrees)
2 3/4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
Toppings: olive oil, zest of 1-2 Meyer (or other) lemons, colored part only; Parmesan cheese, grated; sea salt (optional)

Mix the yeast, sugar and water in a small bowl. Let proof for 10 minutes (until bubbles begin to form).

In large bowl, stir together flour and salt.

Add the yeast mix and olive oil to the dry ingredients and combine.

When dough has pulled together, turn out onto lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic. Gather into a ball. With hands coated with olive oil, oil the surface of the dough ball. Turn the bowl over the dough ball. Let dough rise in a warm place for 25 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Put 2 tablespoons olive oil into bottom of 9 or 10 inch diameter cake pan. Swirl to coat bottom and sides with the oil. Repeat with another 2 tablespoons olive oil in another pan.

Punch dough down. Divide dough in half.  Place one piece of dough in each in oiled cake pan. Spread dough toward sides with your fingers, pushing fingers down into dough to create dimples or pockets.
Drizzle top of each pan with 1 tablespoons olive oil, then sprinkle with lemon zest and some Parmesan cheese or sea salt, if desired.

Bake for 13-15 minutes until golden brown.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Soft Braid

This has been an amazingly busy month, but one without much bread baking. I did make the Bread Baking Babes bread and we just loved those sweet, buttery morsels, but I've been longing for something a lot more plain and basic. This bread is very loosely based on a recipe from the King Arthur Flour folks, but I've made so many changes that I'm not going to do a link.

I think you will enjoy this one as much as Sweetie and I did. We had it with dinner last night and it went really well with the clam chowderish soup I made. This morning I had some sliced and toasted with just a dab of butter and it was excellent. I think that the double rise of the starter, plus the nonfat dry milk help to make the flavor deeper than one might expect from a relatively quick yeast bread. The white whole wheat flour I used helps, too.

So, warm up your kitchen with some fresh baked bread. The fragrance alone will make you glad you did!

Braided Soft Bread
This single loaf is a nice braid with a soft crust and soft, tight crumb inside. It has good flavor and makes great toast.

 1/4 cup barely warm water
.25 oz rapid rise yeast
 1/2 teaspoon sugar
 1 cup all-purpose flour, divided

 all of the starter
 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
 1 cup whole wheat or white whole wheat flour
 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
 2 tablespoons nonfat dry milk
 2/3 cup lukewarm water

1) To make the starter: Put the warm water into a small bowl. Sprinkle on the yeast and let hydrate for 10 minutes. Stir in the sugar and 1/2 cup of the flour. Let sit in a warm place for 1/2 hour. Stir in the second 1/2 cup flour. Again let sit in a warm place for 1/2  to 1 hour. The longer sitting time will add to the flavor of the bread, just a bit.

2) To make the dough: Whisk the plain and whole wheat flours together in a bowl. (I used white whole wheat flour instead of regular whole wheat flour.) Combine the starter with the remaining dough ingredients, and mix and knead — by hand, mixer, or bread machine set on the dough cycle — to make a soft, smooth dough. You may need slightly more or less than 2 cups flour.

3) Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl or large (8-cup) measure, or oiled dough rising container; cover, and let it rise for about 90 minutes, till it's just about doubled in bulk.

4) Gently deflate the dough, and divide it into three equal pieces. Shape each piece into a rough log, and let the logs rest, uncovered, for about 10 minutes. This gives the gluten in the dough a chance to relax, which in turn will make the logs easier to roll.

5) Roll each log into a snake about 14-15 inches long. Snakes should be the same length. Place snakes next to each other on a parchment lined baking sheet and braid. Tuck ends under. Cover lightly with oiled plastic wrap or a damp tea towel, and allow to rise till very puffy, about 90 minutes. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.

10) The braid will need to bake for about 25 minutes. It will be lightly golden brown and, if you tap the bottom of the braid, it will sound hollow. Remove from the oven, and cool on a rack.

Makes one loaf.