Sunday, December 28, 2008

Cuban Bread

What is Cuban Bread, you may ask? It's more or less the Cuban version of a French of Italian bread. I love these breads for their simplicity. The ingredients are: flour, water, salt, yeast, bit of sweetener. Done. I love the idea of bread being so simple, clean and lovely. A bit like minimalism. Add-ins to bread are wonderful, don't get me wrong. But having such a nice base is refreshing.

I decided this year to bake bread instead of cookies around Christmas. I grew up baking and decorating cookies, and love it! But, I also knew that this year, each of our Christmas hosts would have plenty of cookies and treats, and that Greg and I didn't need batches to ourselves. I also figured that this was the worst week to give out cookies at work, since everyone has had their fill at home. So, in order to satisfy my baking craving, I made bread, which turned out to be equally as dangerous as a fresh batch of cookies.

I found this recipe in Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads. This is a great book with breads for any baking level. The Cuban Bread is considered a beginners bread. We thought it was appropriate that I bake something more simple, since I've only made a couple yeast breads, each being very simple. Needless to say, I did not change anything from the recipe. The resulting bread had a nice crisp dry crust with a moist soft inside. A bit sweet, but not too much. It made wonderful grilled cheese sandwiches! It reminds me a bit of Great Harvest breads. The only thing I don't like about this bread is that it uses only all purpose flour. Now that I'm comfortable with the recipe, I'll play around with adding whole wheat flour and or wheat germ.

Recipe: Makes two free-form loafs.

5-6 C. flour
2 pkgs dry yeast
1 TBS salt
2 TBS sugar
2 C. hot water

-Place 4 C. flour in a large bowl. Mix in yeast, salt and sugar. Pour in hot water and continue to mix. Slowly add in the remaining 1-2 C. of flour until the dough is no longer sticky (i had to add the full extra 2 C.).

-Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic.

- Place dough in a greased bowl, cover and keep in a warm place for ~15 minutes, or until doubled in bulk.

-Punch dough down and cut into two pieces.

-Form into a ball by pulling the dough into the shape of a ball, and "tucking" the excess dough into the ball. Place it excess side down onto parchment paper or cornmeal-sprinkled baking sheet. Brush the tops of the bread with water. Make an "X" cut or a square cut in the tops of each loaf.

-Place a pan of cold water in the bottom rack of the oven. Place the bread in the middle and turn on to 400 degrees. Set your timer for 40 minutes. The bread will rise as the oven warms up. The recipe calls for the bread to take 50 minutes to be done, but I think mine took closer to 40. The crust will be golden and if you tap the bottom of the bread it will sound hollow once it is baked all of the way.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Wild Rice with Squash

I saw this dish on Epicurious close to Thanksgiving, and I have been wanting to make it ever since. I must admit, part of why I wanted to make it was an excuse to buy this beautiful multi-grain rice from Whole Foods. They have a bulk section, so we were able to get just the amount we need. It was a fun treat. Well, I like each of the main ingredients on their own, but I was a bit hesitant about how they would all taste together. Turns out, they are an amazing trio. I changed two main things about the original recipe. First, I cut the butter from 6 TBS to 0. That's right, 0 butter. I only used about 3 or 4 tsp extra virgin olive oil. Next, I changed the main herb from parsley to sage. Sage is one of my favorite winter vegetable seasonings. I know it's not very original, but it's sooooo yummy!

I think this would make a great side dish for a party. It makes a huge amount of food. We'll probably be eating this for a few days. I'm trying to think of ways to change it up a bit so we don't get sick of it. Maybe I'll make some chicken soup and put this in it instead of noodles. We'll see though.

Recipe: Makes about 10 Cups.

1 1/2 C. wild rice
3 C. water
1 C. chicken broth or water
1 small onion, diced
1 small butternut squash, skinned and cubed
2 tsp sage
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 1/2 C. frozen corn kernals

-Bring 3C. water to a boil. Add rice. Turn down to low heat and simmer coverd for about 45 minutes.

-While rice is cooking, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Skin and cube the squash. Toss with extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and sage. Roast for 10 minutes. Turning after the first 5 minutes.

-Dice onion. In a large skillet, saute with extra virgin olive oil. When the rice and squash are done, add each to the skillet with the onion. Add the corn and 1 C. chicken broth. Simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed. About 10 minutes. Serve warm.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sugar Cookies with Chocolate Ganache Drizzle

This is one of my favorite sugar cookie recipes. There is a McGraw recipe for Apee Sugar cookies, but whenever I try to make them, they never turn out. So, though I prefer the taste of the apee, these turn out each and every time, and have a nice flaky texture. I have a bunch of cookie cutters which are tons of fun to use. For this batch, I chose a winter theme since I knew I was taking some to work. I wasn't sure if anyone at work would hate it if I brought Christmas tree's in. Turns out, everyone celebrates Christmas at work, and they thought some of the broken snowflakes were Christmas tree's! Looks like all of my cookie cutters are safe to use =).

Though these are cute cut out as snowflakes and such, I think these are best when I make them icebox style. Rounds are nice, but it's very pretty to line a left over foil box with saran wrap and fill the dough in, making them square. They tend to bake better when they are smaller and thicker, so icebox is a perfect solution! The chocolate ganache adds a nice extra element to these, without over powering the flavor of the cookie. They each complement each other nicely!

I got the base of this recipe from the food network, it was/is an Alton Brown recipe. Though, he did not have any flavored extract or chocolate ganache drizzle! I like Alton a lot. I've tried a few of his recipes and they all turn out really well. My parents are big fans of his french toast!


3 C. flour
3/4 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 TBS milk
1 C. butter - softened
1 C. sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 tsp vanilla or other flavored extract

-Sift together f lour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

-Cream butter and sugar. Add egg, vanilla and milk. Beat to combine.

-Add dry ingredients in three portions. Combine. Cut in half and cover, refrigerate for at least two hours.

-Roll out and cut or slice from roll. Bake for 7 minutes and 30 seconds at 375 degree's. Yes that's specific, but it works!

-Let cool a few minutes before removing from baking sheet.

Melt 1 C. chocolate chips in a double boiler. Add 1 tsp butter and 2 tbs milk. Mix together. Stir often until melted. Place in a bag. Cut the tip off the bag and drizzle over cookies. Let cool until chocolate sets.