Monday, June 28, 2010

100% Whole Wheat Bread

If you had asked me 2 years ago if I bake, I would have told you that I love cooking, but really don't enjoy baking - too annoying having to measure everything and be so precise.  Then I discovered that muffins are the perfect family snack and really don't require a ton of work, so if you had asked me the same question 6 months ago, I would have told you that I love making muffins and other baked goods that don't require complicated things like a stand mixer, or yeast, or kneading.  Then I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and got inspired to make pizza dough, something that requires kneading (in a machine) AND yeast!  Well, I have now officially crossed the threshold into real baking with my crowning achievement - homemade bread, kneaded by hand :)

You might wonder why would I do such a thing when you can get perfectly good bread in the store or at a bakery?  Well, I've become quite picky with the ingredients in my food, and decided I really wanted to find an organic loaf that was 100% whole grain and didn't have preservatives.  This has turned out to be harder than I anticipated (at least in my markets), which is what led me to try making my own.  In keeping with my "simple" approach, I started out with Mark Bittman's no knead whole wheat bread which is certainly easy enough, but found the texture a little too crumby and the flavor too intense and salty. 

So I did a little more poking around and found a recipe on the King Arthur Flour website that got rave reviews, even by people who claimed to be new to bread making, just like me.  Adding to my motivation was an upcoming visit from my friends in Vermont who exclusively make their own bread, so I thought it would be nice to have some homemade bread to share with them while they were in town!  The ingredient list looked simple enough, the timing wasn't too bad, and how hard could 6-8 minutes of kneading really be??

Well, as it turns out, I ran into a few hiccups along the way.  First, I learned that kneading is hard work!  It requires a good amount of muscle to keep going for several minutes, but I have to admit I kind of enjoyed that aspect.  The second hiccup, though, was that I miscalculated how long it would take me to make and realized after I was done kneading that if I kept going I would be up past 11pm while home alone with the munchkin who wakes up at 5:30am.  Call me a wimp, but that is just not enough sleep for me!  I was torn between throwing away my hard work and being exhausted the next day, when I remembered references in the comments to the King Arthur Flour baking hotline.  Yes, you read that right - you can call a KAF representative until 9pm (eastern time) to ask for help with any of their recipes!  What an amazing service!  And lucky for me, I learned that I could leave the dough in the fridge overnight instead of having to bake that evening.  I've passed on this tidbit in the directions below, outlining both options for rising.

So, after a very longwinded story, those of you still reading might be wondering how it all turned out, and I am happy to report that this bread was absolutely delicious.  It was dense but not heavy, moist, flavorful, and a little sweet.  I would like to try this recipe using a stand mixer or a bread machine for the dough, but in the mean time I think it is worth a little elbow grease to provide my family with high quality, yummy bread for half the price of a loaf I'd buy in the store.

So yummy hubby couldn't resist taking a bite mid-photo shoot!

100% Whole Wheat Bread
adapted from King Arthur Flour

2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast, or 1 packet active dry yeast dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
1 cup water
1/3 cup low fat or skim milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil (I used olive; I'm sure canola would work well too)
1/4 cup honey (or molasses or maple syrup)
3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (bread or white whole wheat is ok, whole wheat pastry flour is not)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients and stir until all of the flour has absorbed liquid and the dough starts to come together in the center of the bowl. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased surface (I used my counter top), oil your hands, and knead it for 6 to 8 minutes, or until it begins to become smooth and supple.

Notes on kneading: the dough will still be sticky when it's done, and this is a good thing - dough that is not sticky will yield a dry loaf, so you'll want to add a drop more water if this happens.  You just want good elasticity in the dough, so that when you fold it over to knead it stretches to form a smooth-ish surface and doesn't tear, as it will when you start.  According to KAF, you can also knead this dough in an electric mixer or food processor, or in a bread machine programmed for "dough" or "manual."  I haven't tried this yet, but will update if I do.

Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, loosely cover the bowl, and allow the dough to rise till puffy though not necessarily doubled in bulk, about 60 minutes, depending on the warmth of your kitchen.

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled work surface again, and shape it into an 8-inch log. Place the log in a lightly greased 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan (this is a standard 1 lb loaf pan) and cover loosely with lightly greased plastic wrap. 

At this point you have two options: 1) allow the bread to rise at room temperature again for about 1 hour, or 2) refrigerate overnight (this is what I did).  The dough is ready when it has crowned about 1 inch above the edge of the pan and a finger pressed into the dough leaves a mark that rebounds very slowly.

Remove the plastic wrap and bake the bread in a preheated 350°F oven for about 40 minutes, tenting it lightly with aluminum foil after 20 minutes. (If you refrigerated the dough, leave it at room temperature while you preheat the oven, and bake for an extra 2-3 minutes if it was still cool when you put it in the oven).  Test it for doneness by removing it from the pan and thumping it on the bottom (it should sound hollow), or measuring its interior temperature with an instant-read thermometer (it should register 190°F at the center of the loaf). Remove the bread from the oven and let it cool on a wire rack before slicing. Store the bread in a plastic bag at room temperature.

Makes 1 loaf, 16 slices

Friday, June 25, 2010

Coconut Muffins - Update

Hi everyone!  A couple of weeks ago I told you about the Coconut Muffin recipe I found on Sweet + Natural.  Well, I'm happy to report that they have become one of the munchkin's favorites, and mine, too!  I really want to make them part of my regular rotation, but was still a little concerned because they had about 25% more sugar than I normally like to see in an everyday muffin.  So I decided to make them again, cutting the maple syrup and replacing the missing liquid with apple sauce.  They just came out of the oven and I can't tell the difference at all! 

I also made about 1/3 of the batch with some dried pineapple that I soaked in hot water for the hubby, who really prefers mixed textures in his muffins.  These came out great, too, so if your more of a mix-in type, feel free to give this a try!

I doubled the recipe this time since the munchkin has been eating them like crazy, so I'm posting the doubled version with my changes below.

Coconut Muffins
(with less sugar)

2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
2 eggs
1 cup light coconut milk
3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup dried pineapple, cut into small pieces and soaked in hot water (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350. Spray 1 1/2 muffin pans with cooking spray and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together whole wheat pastry flour, coconut flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and shredded coconut. In a separate, larger bowl, whisk together egg, coconut milk, applesauce, vanilla extract and maple syrup until well blended. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just blended, and gently stir in pineapple if using.

Spoon into prepared pans.  Bake for 12 minutes for mini-muffins, or 16-18 minutes for standard muffins.
Makes 24 mini + 6 standard muffins (or equivalent: 1 standard = 2 minis)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Double Chocolate Cookies

Last weekend, hubby requested a family dinner out for Father's Day.  With the munchkin's 6:30pm bedtime, we don't often go out for dinner as a family because really, who wants to eat at 5pm??  But for Father's Day, hubby gets whatever we want, so at 4:45pm we packed up and headed out to try an Italian restaurant in our neighborhood that had outdoor seating, a perfect way to enjoy this beautiful almost-summer evening.  As a side note to this post, I have to say that the munchkin was outrageously cute on this outing!  She had the entire waitstaff who was, shockingly, not too busy while we were there lined up as an audience to watch her perform - she learned how to dip bread in olive oil, she attempted to eat her pasta with a fork, and she even demanded a napkin for her lap so that she could wipe her face after every bite - priceless!  I have no idea how she got to be such a little lady at only 18 months, but we could not have been more proud :)

Getting back to the point, the reason this early dinner outing is relevant is because we realized that we would be done with dinner by 6:30, which left an entire evening for a yummy dessert creation!  I contemplated a chocolate mousse recipe I tried ages ago and have been meaning to make again, but the mousse needed to be refrigerated for at least an hour, which sounded annoying for this occasion.  Instead, I decided that cookies would be perfect - I'd have plenty of time to make the dough and it would be great to have them fresh out of the oven.

Ellie Krieger has a recipe for Triple Chocolate Cookies that gets amazing reviews.  I've come across this recipe a few times but have never had a good reason to try it out.  Bingo.  But of course, I couldn't resist making a few changes - some for taste preference (avoiding milk chocolate - hence the Double instead of Triple chocolate in my version!), some for health (more whole wheat flour and less sugar), and some for convenience (all brown sugar instead of some granulated since I was out).  I had to make several batches to get the baking time right, but the end result is a really yummy and rich (they really needed a glass of milk!) chocolate cookie.  I do have a few complaints, though - first, they spread a little more than I would have expected (I even refrigerated the dough - any suggestions???), you can definitely detect the whole wheat flour if you're paying attention, and they get cakey (instead of crisp on the outside) after day 1.

But overall I really enjoyed them and found them to be 100% capable of satisfying a cookie craving.  I think these have a lot of potential for personalizing, too - add coconut, use dark chocolate instead of semi-sweet, add a dash of espresso powder, maybe even throw in some white chocolate or butterscotch chips?  The possibilities are endless, and with less butter and sugar and the addition of whole wheat flour as compared to traditional cookies, these are a dessert I feel good about indulging in.

Double Chocolate Cookies
adapted from Food Network

1/4 cup butter, softened (this is half a stick)
1/2 cup (rounded) firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour (I wouldn't recommend subbing regular whole wheat flour)
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup chocolate chips/chopped chocolate (I used all semi-sweet chips; use whatever kind or combination you want!)
2/3 cup chopped nuts (e.g., pecans, walnuts - totally optional!)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, mash together the butter and sugars with a fork until well combined. Add the oil and egg and beat until creamy (you could use a hand mixer here, but I just whisked vigorously and it seemed to get creamy enough!). Mix in the vanilla.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, cocoa powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix well. Stir in the chocolate chips and mix well.

Using a tablespoon, scoop the batter onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8 minutes. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool for a few minutes and eat while still warm.

Makes 24 small cookies

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Caesar Salad

Historically, I have not been especially good at serving a vegetable with every dinner.  In an effort to be better at this, salad has become my back-up veggie when I don't have something else specifically planned.  Generally I get some mesclun greens and toss with whatever other veggies we have around (carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc) and some dried fruit and nuts.  But every once in a while I like to have something a little more special.  I am a big fan of caesar salad in restaurants, but it barely qualifies as healthy - some lettuce drowning in creamy dressing, cheese, and greasy croutons!

Well, at home it's possible to make a caesar salad that is yummy AND healthy!  Ellie Krieger has a recipe for dressing that is delicious - so flavorful and yet fairly light.  I've also found that you can make homemade croutons out of whole grain bread that add that nice crunch to a salad without all the grease.  You could also add some grilled chicken or shrimp to make this a complete meal, but even as a simple side this was a big hit in my house - let me know what you think!

Caesar Salad
adapted from Food Network and Martha Stewart

1/4 cup pasteurized egg whites (this takes care of the salmonella risk in raw egg)
1 clove of garlic, minced (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons anchovy paste (comes in a tube - very handy!)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
Freshly ground black pepper

Whisk together the egg whites, garlic (if using; I didn't!), anchovy paste, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice. Slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream, whisking the whole time. Stir in the Parmesan and season with salt and pepper.
2 slices of your favorite whole wheat/whole grain bread
Olive oil spray
Salt & pepper (or whatever seasoning you like - an italian blend would be great, too!)
Preheat the oven (or toaster oven) to 400.  Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with olive oil.  Cut bread into cubes and place on baking sheet in a single layer.  Spray cubes with olive oil and season with a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper (or other seasoning).  Cook until golden and crisp, approximately 10-12 minutes.  Cool completely before serving.  According to Martha, these can be stored for up to 4 days at room temperature in an airtight container.
Salad - putting it all together
Romaine lettuce, cut or torn into bite size pieces (Ellie's recipe also includes some baby spinach - I'm a purest with my Caesar, but feel free to throw some in for a nutritional boost if you'd like!)
Parmesan cheese
Grilled chicken or shrimp (optional)

Toss enough lettuce for 4 people with dressing.  Top with croutons and toss again to combine.  Top with a sprinkle of cheese and grilled chicken or shrimp if you're serving this as a main course.

Serves 4

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Edamame Hummus and Spiced Pita Chips

I love to entertain, but at some point I got into a rut where every time I had people over and needed snacks and/or appetizers, hummus with veggies and pita chips from a bag appeared on the table.  Yummy, but boring.  So a couple of years ago when I volunteered to bring munchies to a potluck lunch, I decided I was going to find something interesting AND healthy to bring.  I took a risk with two Ellie Krieger recipes and got the most amazing feedback - the group seemed genuinely impressed.  The best part was, not only was this recipe healthy, but it was also incredibly easy to make - the hardest part was cooking the edamame in the microwave!  

This past weekend I was having a few friends over, so I decided to dig up the hummus recipe and found that it is no longer on the Food Network website!  Ack!  Fortunately another blogger out there had it posted on her site, and now I'll share it with you :)  I didn't make the chips this time around, but I'm including that recipe below as well, just in case it disappears one day too!  I highly recommend this winning combination when you're entertaining or just as a healthy snack/lunch to have around for yourself - it's really that easy!

Edamame Hummus
adapted from Food Network, found reposted here

2 cups (1 10 ounce bag) shelled edamame, cooked according to package directions
1 cup silken tofu, briefly drained of excess liquid
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1-2 cloves garlic (original recipe calls for 3 cloves, but this was WAY to overpowering for me!  I used 1 this time around and it tasted great; you could also try roasting 3 cloves for a more mellow garlic flavor)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup lemon juice, plus more, to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin, plus more, for garnish
Add all ingredients to a food processor and process for 2-3 minutes, until smooth.  Adjust seasonings (salt, cumin, lemon juice) as needed.  Garnish with extra edamame and/or cumin if desired.

Spiced Pita Chips
adapted from Food Network
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 whole-wheat pitas, cut into 1/8's

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine olive oil and all spices in a large bowl. Add pita wedges and toss to coat, Spread in 1 layer on a baking sheet (I have allowed for some overlapping and they still worked) and bake for about 15 minutes, tossing once, or until pita is brown and crisp. Cool completely before serving (chips will crisp up more as they cool).

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Moroccan Lamb Stew

Last time I ordered meat from my CSA, I decided to branch out a bit from my typical beef and poultry selection and bought two kinds of lamb - stew pieces and a lamb leg steak.  The steak is still in the freezer waiting for the right recipe, but the stew meat got put to excellent use last week with a Moroccan inspired Rachael Ray recipe.  I've made this before, but it's been years so this was a good opportunity to dig it out.  Fortunately, since I last made it there are tons of new comments on the Food Network website.  As you probably know, Rachael Ray is all about the "30-minute meal", and as great as that is in theory, stews are really not meant to be rushed.  The reviews suggested throwing the timing out the window and cooking this for a few hours to get really melt-in-your-mouth results, which I think was an excellent idea.

The nice thing about stew is that, despite the long cooking time, it's usually pretty quick to pull together, and this is no exception - the hardest part of the prep work was finding all the spices on my spice rack!  But still, 2 hours of cooking required some advance planning since I generally don't start dinner until about 7pm.  Instead, I made the stew during the munchkin's nap time, let it simmer until it was time to leave for our afternoon activity, let it hang out in the fridge for a few hours, and then put it back on the stove after she went to sleep.  This worked perfectly, and I highly recommend the do-ahead approach, even getting it started the night before!  The flavors in this dish are amazing...sweet and savory and rich all at the same time.  The meat really did melt in your mouth along with the dates, which are so sweet and yummy.  The only problem is that it is not the most beautiful looking meal - lots of brown, which is why there's no picture this time :)  I'd recommend serving this over couscous, although I made quinoa this time because I was out of couscous and I think in the end any grain you like would work.  I hope you enjoy!

Moroccan Lamb Stew
adapted from Food Network

1 1/2 pounds boneless lamb stew pieces
2 teaspoons grill seasoning (I used a combination of kosher salt, black pepper, and a different meat seasoning blend I had on hand)
1 rounded teaspoon turmeric
1 rounded teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon paprika (not smoked)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced or chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
10 to 12 pitted dates, halved, about 8 oz
1 1/2 cups chicken stock

Add all of the spices to a gallon sized food storage bag and shake to mix.  Add lamb and shake to evenly coat all of the pieces with the spice blend.

Heat a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil, then the lamb. Sear the lamb and caramelize the meat all over, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the onions and garlic and cook 5 minutes more. Add the chicken stock to the pan and cover.  Simmer for approximately 2 hours or until the lamb can be easily pulled apart with a fork (leave plenty of time; you can always keep it warm until you're ready to eat if it cooks faster than you expect).  About 5-10 minutes before the end of the cooking time, add the dates.  If there seems to be too much liquid near the end, cook with the cover off to thicken, or add more stock if needed.

Serve over whole wheat couscous or whatever grain you prefer.

Serves 4 (generously)