A Harmony of Flavors

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Winefest Renaissance and Fine Fishing Friends

I have been absent from blogging for almost a solid week. I kept meaning to come up to my office and write a blog, but it was one crazy-busy time. Today I have free time; a real rarity lately.

For the last month I had been prepping for the Winefest Renaissance event to benefit the Boys and Girls' Club of Aberdeen. My part in the event was to create 6 different foods to pair properly with 6 wines I chose to showcase for the event. I believe I have already written about all the appetizers I created, except possibly the Chicken and Artichoke Spread with Pine Nuts. 

Chicken Artichoke Cheese Spread with Pine Nuts
This last is an old recipe I altered very slightly to better pair with the Sancerre wine. To make things a bit easier on myself, I used a rotisserie chicken from the deli and just removed all the meat from the bones and chopped it for the spread. Instead of using a mold to form the spread, I rolled it into logs and rolled the logs in a mix of finely minced fresh parsley and fennel fronds. It went wonderfully with the wine, as did everything else, for which I am grateful. There would be nothing worse than to try and demonstrate how good a wine can taste with the proper food and the pairing not work!

Chicken Artichoke Spread with Pine Nuts

makes one mold, or 2 long, thin logs
1 1/2 cups cooked chicken, finely minced
8 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 (6 or 7 ounce) jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained, minced
1/2 cup pine nuts, or other nuts of choice
3 scallions, white & light green parts only, minced
1 teaspoons capers, minced
3 olives, minced
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper

Place the cream cheese, chicken, Parmesan and artichoke hearts into the food processor. Alternatively, all this can be mixed by hand or stand mixer, if the cheese is soft enough at room temp. Process until well mixed, then add in the rest of the ingredients and process just to combine. 

To make in a mold: line with plastic wrap a container large enough to hold the spread. Press the mixture in evenly and smooth the top. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until needed. This can be done up to 3 or 4 days in advance. To serve, uncover the mold and set a plate over the top. Holding the mold on the plate firmly, flip over the mold and plate and remove the outer plastic wrap.

To make into a log: Form into two or more logs as needed. If serving on crackers, the logs should not be much larger in diameter than the crackers. Once the logs are formed, chop herbs of choice (such as parsley, fennel or cilantro) very finely. Coat the logs in the herb mixture. Keep chilled until needed; up to 3 or 4 days. Do not freeze.

On the evening prior to the Winefest Renaissance Event, our great friend Rich arrived with three fishing buddies; Tom, Dick.... and Allan. I had prepared a lasagna the week before so I would not have to try and concoct a dinner in the midst of making all these little appetizer foods for the event. The lasagna was tasty, but I definitely need to give that recipe another try. Too dry, not enough sauce. Oh well. We had a meal, and I had fresh garlic bread and wine - no one went hungry. I even made my Best Apple Crisp, Ever at the last minute using frozen apples I had prepared and frozen last Fall. The guys went out fishing the day of the event, returning home to shower and change around 3 PM. No fish, alas. 

Sunday, once the whole affair was done with, I had a lot of leftovers, so I set out everything that was left and between the 4 guests, my husband and myself, we did a really good job of polishing off the rest. That day was a blur.

Basic Potato Roll Dough, made into Buns
Monday I made a Chicken Curry for dinner. I also decided to make some Naan Bread to pair with the Chicken Curry and the Peas in Tomato Sauce. I had made Mango Chutney last Fall sometime, so that was also part of the meal. The guys came home from their fishing day with 5 Northern Pike. I understand that these particular fish are difficult to filet as there is something about the way the bones run that requires a bit of special skill. One of the group, Tom, was the only one that had done this in past, so he worked gamely to get all the fish fileted and frozen. Dick used one smaller fish to make Ceviche, which turned out fantastically good.

On Tuesday the fishing crew decided they might stay out late. They said not to try and hold supper. So I made pulled pork (recipe to come at a later date)

Baby Greens, Mandarin Oranges and Candied Almonds

and potato salad (see my blog of March 11 for the Potato Salad recipe). As I had no buns, I made some, using my Basic Potato Roll Dough recipe. I had bought some ring molds the last time I shopped at Inspire here in town. Inspire is a fantastic store featuring gourmet kitchen utensils and home decor, as well as serving gourmet coffees and chocolates. My plan with these ring molds was to try making buns and maybe at some point English Muffins. Haven't gotten to the English Muffin part yet, but the ring molds worked splendidly for the buns (see photo above). It ended up that the guys got back right at supper time, so we all sat down to eat. 

Perfect Medium Rare Filet Mignon
Yesterday was my birthday. The guys said I had been so hospitable and welcoming, as well as serving them all sorts of wonderful foods, that they were going to cook me a meal for my birthday. The day started out with Dick already in the kitchen making coffee when I surfaced. He also made a batch of scrambled eggs with bacon for the three of us who were awake for breakfast at that point. I was thoroughly questioned about my likes and dislikes for a fine meal. They wouldn't allow me to do anything at all to contribute, though I stayed in the kitchen most of the day just to be able to point them in the right direction to find ingredients or utensils. Merriment abounded all the day long as they shopped and then prepped the foods. All of them contributed some skill set to the day, at differing time slots. While Dick prepped potatoes and onions to be made on the grill, Allan and Tom worked on making the swinging door between the kitchen and dining room work again. Later they worked on some of my dining room chairs that are coming apart, and took a look at my kitchen table that won't come together! Rich was in charge of getting the potatoes and onions on the grill in sufficient time for the filet mignons to get done at the right time. Dick made a huge salad with mandarin oranges and also candied some almonds to use for the salad. He made a salad dressing I will try to approximate at some time, using vinegar, olive oil and frozen orange juice concentrate. Allan used to own and run restaurants, so he was chosen to grill the filet mignons. Dick also sauteed mushrooms in butter to serve with the steaks. I had requested coleslaw, because I just love it, so that was also served. They even went and got me a little bakery cake and candles.
Blowing out my candles

The meal was to-die-for good. I cannot imagine going out anywhere for a finer meal. My husband is a wonderful man, though no gourmet cook. He will take me out for my birthday and we have enjoyed some truly fine meals together over our 25 years together. I appreciate fully being taken out to dine; I thoroughly enjoy being served, since usually it is I who serve meals. Having this wonderful meal come out of my own kitchen without my help was truly out of the normal realm of things in my little universe. I sat and sipped tea while watching everyone cook and repair things. If any of you guys read this blog, my heartfelt thanks to Rich, Dick, Allan and Tom for a most enjoyable birthday from beginning to end. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest..

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

More Savory Little Appetizers

Porcini Rubbed Flank Steak, 2nd Trial Run
The creation of the little appetizers for the upcoming Winefest Renaissance continues. Time is now getting short and I am trying to accomplish as much ahead of time as possible. Regardless, there will be a huge rush to the finish once Saturday rolls around. Besides the 6 appetizer pairings of my own, I was asked to make a couple of appetizers to pair with the "special wine tasting", open to only 25 select people. These wines will all be rated 90 or above. Most of them are red wines (and mostly Italian), so the flavors should require nice hearty flavors in a food pairing. In my blog of March 19th I already wrote about the trial run of the Porcini & Coffee Rubbed Flank Steak, which was to be topped with garlic mashed potatoes. The way I tried these the first time just flat-out didn't work. I tried stacking the layers differently and this was better, as seen at right. However, the subject of the Garlic Mashed Potatoes still had been bugging me.

The reason being that the first time I made the potatoes they were far too runny. Using russets the second time, I did everything possible to ensure that the mixture stayed dry enough. The only problem was it was so dry it would barely go through the piping bag. Making a fair lot of these, this could be very tiring on the hands, and these are not the only part of the overall food pairings that require piping. The more I thought about it, the more I went with the idea that maybe tried and true would be best in this instance. So, instead of the mashed potatoes I made my Gorgonzola Walnut Spread that was such a hit with the flank steak last year. The flavors are bold and it should work well. 
Hazelnut Blue Cheese Tartlets with Savory Bean Filling

Anyway, the other appetizer I am making for that special wine tasting section of the event is Hazelnut Blue Cheese Tartlets with Savory Bean Filling. I had made a really delicious bean filling some years back, but made it on the fly. I never wrote down what I did, and had tried to make it again - twice now - and it just was not what my palate remembered. The Hazelnut Blue Cheese Tartlets are a variation of my Savory Blue Cheese Coins, but switching out the cheese and nuts. Making these as little coins and topping them with the Bean Spread would probably also work well, but the little tartlet shells are too cute a presentation to resist. Anyway, for whatever reason, I tried the Bean Filling again and it turned out just perfect, and just as I remembered. It is not an identical recipe, but close enough, and maybe even more tasty.
Using pestle to form the tart shells

For the tart shells, if you make the recipe for the savory coins and slice the little chilled log of dough, you just set one little slice into each tart cup and I find a perfect instrument to form the shell is the little marble pestle from my mortar and pestle set. The thick end presses the dough into the well, then the narrow end can be used to press it into the corners. Fingers could be used also! Here is my recipe.

Hazelnut Blue Cheese Tart Shells

Tartlet Shells, baked
makes about 85 mini-tart shells

1/2 cup hazelnuts
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
3/4 cup blue cheese crumbles
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, cold, in small cubes
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons water

In this recipe, first toast the hazelnuts. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Set the hazelnuts on a small baking sheet with rim. Roast them for about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven, pour them onto a kitchen towel and fold the towel around the nuts for a few minutes to cool slightly. Rub the nuts inside the towel very vigorously to remove as much of the dark skin as possible. Once cooled, place the toasted nuts into the food processor and process until well broken. Add in the flour, the two cheeses and the salt and process to combine. Add in the cubes of butter and process in short bursts until the mixture makes crumbs. In a small cup, combine the egg yolk and water, then add this to the food processor and pulse again, until the mixture starts to stick together. Turn out onto a surface (no extra flour is needed) and with the palm of the hand, smear the dough mixture in one long movement. Use a bench scraper to gather the dough and fold it onto itself then smear again. Fold the dough and turn and repeat this process until the dough has come together completely. Divide into 2 or 3 long, thin rolls about 1-inch in diameter. Wrap the rolls in plastic wrap and chill for at least 3 hours or up to 3 days.

When ready to work with the dough, preheat oven to 375 degrees. If forming simple "coin" shapes, slice the cold log into thin (3/8 or 1/4-inch thick) slices. Set them on a baking sheet to bake. If making tartlet shells, slice the discs into slightly thicker slices. Set one slice into each well of the mini-tart pan and press into a tart shell shape. Bake the little shells for about 15 minutes, until golden. Cool. These can be made ahead and frozen for up to a month. 

I erred on the high side when making the bean filling. Since everything used can easily be cut in half, feel free to halve the recipe if desired. It is highly tasty and equally good used as a dip for sturdy chips or crackers, or spread or piped onto crackers.

Savory Bean Filling / Dip / Spread

Makes about 3 1/2 cups of bean filling - halve recipe if desired

2 (15.5 ounce) cans white beans
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1 (4 ounce) jar diced pimiento, drained well
2 cloves roasted garlic, or fresh if desired
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh rosemary leaves
4 scallions, minced (about 1/4 cup)
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
4 teaspoons olive oil

Drain the cans of beans in a colander and run copious quantities of cold water over them until any foaming has stopped. Place them in a food processor with all the rest of the ingredients except the olive oil. Process for 2 - 3 minutes, adding in the olive oil 1 teaspoon at a time if needed for a good consistency, or if the processor is straining.
The Savory Bean Filling/Dip/Spread can be made up to three days in advance, if time is pressing. It is best if the filling is piped into the tartlet shells. If you are not proficient with a piping bag and tips, use a heavier "freezer" type zip-top bag and cut a hole in one corner, making a diameter of about 1/2-inch. If you know your way around a piping bag and tips, use a large open star tip to fill the tarts.  Anything small will clog with the bits of rosemary, scallion or anything else that hasn't gotten completely pureed smooth.  

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.    

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Port and Chocolate Salami

With the big wine tasting event just one week away, I am now going into high gear with finalizing the 6 appetizer dishes being created to pair with 6 specific wines - none of which I have tried except for the Warre's Warrior Port. I did this same thing last year, going in essentially blind, except for my knowledge of what the different varietals are like, and my trusty Wine and Food Pairing sheets. I knew I wanted to use chocolate, and walnuts help tone down sweetness as well as tart dried fruit like cherries. While port is a sweet wine, no wine can pair with anything too sweet. Nuts are a great accompaniment, as are many cheeses.

Fonseca Bin 27 Port and Warre's Otima Tawny
Port is a confusing wine, to those who do not know too much about wines. And if you are unfamiliar with port, though you love other wines, this will apply here also. Port is a fortified, sweet wine that originally came only from in and around Oporto (a port - as in, on the water, for shipping - town), in Portugal. Now, "port " wines are being made in Australia, South Africa, the US and many other places, and often from many grapes never used in Oporto. A fortified wine has had brandy added to the partially fermented wine to stop the fermentation process before it ferments out all the grapes' sugar. This makes port a dessert wine, which can be one of exceptional sweetness and depth. The very best port wines are vintage wines. A "Vintage" is only declared in years that the port growers (in Portugal) decide that the grape crop is worthy of making the greatest wine. Many factors come into play, but weather is the most overriding factor in wine-making everywhere. If the weather doesn't cooperate, the wines may come out just so-so; not the result vintners look for!

Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port
To make recognizing a true Vintage Port even more confusing, and I speak from my experience while still learning, is that some ports are labeled "Late-Bottled Vintage", for example. The word Vintage in there is confusing; is it a vintage or not? Not. Or a label that states "20-year old" - does that mean it is a vintage that was aged? Nope. Or another is having a year on the bottle that gives you the year the company was founded - but it is a year, right? No, not vintage. Then again, even among vintage ports, there are some few that are "declared vintage", but from a year that is not a declared vintage! What?! Well, these are found on occasion when a particular port grower has a certain small plot of land with a particular name all its own. Possibly that year was not the overall best for port growers all around Oporto, but that one little vineyard had optimal growing weather. There are little micro-climates possible in many vineyards. So for example, the very first Vintage Port I bought, before I was as familiar with this phenomenon, was a Fonseca "Guimaraens", 1967. Fonseca, along with many other wonderful Port wine growers, have certain little vineyards such as this. For these small vineyard selections, they may declare a vintage year, even though the rest of the Port growers do not see the crop as good enough. It turned out that my first purchase was a truly wonderful vintage. Beginner's luck. 

Then, aside from these red vintage ports, there are ports known as Ruby or Tawny. When you have the great vintage ports that need to be cellared for 20 years before they become palatable, Ruby Port is a nice change, meant to be drunk young. It can be pure plonk. Or it can be really very good. It has a lovely color, giving it the name Ruby. Tawny port is red port which has been left in a barrel over very long periods of time. Red wine, as it oxidizes with age, becomes lighter, more brick colored, and if very old, a lighter tawny color. In a barrel, with the amount of air that is available, the wine oxidizes more rapidly. Tawny ports can also be really lovely wines, slightly less sweet than some of the great vintage wines.

Warre's Otima Tawny Port left; Fonseca Bin 27 Port right
And then there are the red port wines that are called port, that don't fit into any of these categories, such as two of my most favorites, Fonseca Bin 27 or Warre's Warrior. These two are about the closest to what a vintage style will be like, but at a far more reasonable price. They are great to have on hand, because they are always good. I will be serving the Warre's Warrior for the wine tasting event. All this info, and there are so many other styles of Port to choose from!

In the past, I have made a recipe I found in an ad in the Food and Wine Magazine, to pair with port. Essentially, a chocolate candy with walnuts and dried cherries, it is a very good pairing, and easy to make. It is what I had planned to serve with the port wine tasting. And then I was online, looking for something else entirely, as usual, and came across a recipe for Chocolate Salami. I now see there are so many variations out there, but I went forging ahead on my own.

First off, it is the cutest idea ever. I used the recipe I found as a baseline concept, but changed the ingredients to fit my need. I wanted to have a dessert that was not too sweet, so the sheer amount of condensed milk and dulce de leche seemed excessive. I decided to use only dulce de leche and skip the condensed milk. The cookies called for were "biscuit cookies". Vanilla Wafers can be a little more sweet than I wanted, so I found some called Leibniz Wafers and they are perfect in this recipe. Vanilla Wafers could be used. I wanted dried fruits in it, and used dried cherries and blueberries, along with walnuts, for their bitterness factor. I used a whole teaspoon of Kosher salt per recipe I made, balancing out the sweet with enough salt to give it character. When I finished making it, I tasted a little bit with a Fonseca Port I had opened on the counter and OMG! What a most heavenly-perfect match. 
So, after finishing the recipes for the event, here is what I did:

Chocolate Salami

3 slices per serving = about 24 slices depending on thickness of slices

1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup dulce de leche
7 ounces wafer cookies, such as Leibniz 
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
2/3 cup walnuts, broken
1/3 cup dried cherries
1/3 cup dried blueberries
confectioners' sugar for dusting

With a mixer, first beat together the butter and cocoa until very creamy. Add the dulce de leche to combine.

in a large bowl, crush the wafer cookies to medium-small bits. They do not need to be completely pulverized. Add the salt, walnuts and dried fruits. Make a well and scrape in the cocoa mixture. First using a spoon or spatula, begin to combine the ingredients, then switch to hands when the mixture gets too stiff to stir. Squeeze the ingredients together until the cocoa mixture is completely combined. Turn out onto a surface and divide into two equal parts. Begin rolling one section into a log. This will take a bit of patience, as with all the nuts and fruits, the mixture wants to break apart. Eventually it will come together, making a very dense log. Make the log as smooth as possible, rolling it out to about the size of a paper towel center roll. (If you have a couple of empty paper towel rolls handy, they are great for storing the logs until they get solid enough on their own.) Repeat this with the second part of the mixture, making two logs. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap or waxed paper, twisting the ends. Slide the logs into paper towel rolls if available. Another alternative is using a baguette pan. The rounded forms help the logs to stay round while chilling. Set the logs into the refrigerator to chill completely before serving.

To serve, slice the logs with a very sharp knife in about 1/4 inch thick slices. The amount of slices per log will depend on the thickness of the log and the length, and how thick the slice. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.    

Friday, April 4, 2014

Beer Bread Turns Out Perfect

I  mentioned a few days ago that I have been trying to prepare for the arrival of 4 guys as guests here next week. Making bread and getting it frozen so it's available at a moment's notice is one way to prepare. I saw a recipe for a bread using a whole bottle of beer, and thought, "most guys like beer, so this should be good". My husband is one exception - he hates beer. Even so, I decided to give it a try and see what the flavor was like. At worst, my husband wouldn't eat it. At best, everyone would love it. 
Beer Bread

I took the concept from that same cookbook that has so often steered me wrong in past, but with the amount of experience I have with making bread, I can usually see when there are problems and correct before they go too far wrong. Sometimes, there needs to be more tweaking, such as with the Cinnamon Raisin Bread I made last week. Eventually it comes out right or I give up the recipe concept as a no-go and leave it at that. The Cinnamon Raisin Bread was wonderfully tasty; no problem there. The only real difficulty was how it rose gigantically and spilled sticky cinnamon sugar butter all over the oven. Easily fixed: make 3 loaves instead of 2 from the recipe.

The Sponge: just mixed; after 30 minutes note bubbles

Back to the Beer Bread. Making a sponge to start with is a nice way to avoid having to knead for a full 8 or 10 minutes. The action of the yeast in the sponge takes on a part of the process. I made the sponge, and let it set for 30 minutes, though 45 minutes would also have been fine. You can see here how it is nice and bubbly after that time. The beer is slightly heated before using it in the sponge. I warmed it on the stove, while prepping the other ingredients. It takes seconds to whisk the sponge ingredients together, just until they are combined. Then you let the yeast do the work for you. After the sponge grows, you add the rest of the flour and knead for another 5 minutes or so, until the dough comes together nicely. 

This recipe uses a long, slow chilled rise after the loaves are formed, which really gives the yeast time to work slowly, and may also contribute to the overall tangy flavor of the bread. You will need room in the fridge for this long rise. Or, if you are still having freezing weather like we are - I set the pan, well covered, in my "sun room," which is at about 50 degrees. All this cold weather is good for something, after all. I set the loaves  onto a chair, and tented flour sack towels from over from the back of the chair to cover the bread. I didn't want the towels to stick to the loaves and chance deflating when uncovered. If you begin making the bread in the afternoon, you may allow the bread to do its slow rise overnight. I started the loaves early in the morning, and baked after 6 hours in the chilled sun room and the bread was done at supper time.

French Bread Pan
I have a large French Bread pan I acquired many many years ago, and it is wonderful to use. It keeps the bread nicely rounded and it is long; probably about 15 or more inches. I used the French bread pan to make my Beer Bread, forming the loaves nice and long. I lined the pan with parchment. This was a new idea; something I had never done before with this pan. The pan is perforated so the heat can really get to the crust and make it nice and crisp. Parchment is also porous, so I just gave it a try. I sprayed the parchment with cooking spray before setting the long, formed loaves into the wells. 

After all, the bread came out with a far crispier crust than I have ever managed previously with any loaf. The finished bread did have a slight bitterness at the end, but tastes wonderful. I shared an end with my husband and he liked it very much, despite that slight bitterness. I cannot truly taste beer, but it is evident that there is something very different in the flavor from other French Bread or other loaves of this sort. Here is my recipe.

Just out of the oven

Beer Bread

makes 2 long loaves

1 (12 ounce) bottle of beer
1 tablespoon + 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
pinch of sugar
1 cup warm water, 100 to 115 degrees
1 cup bread flour

2 cups bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
up to 2 cups more bread flour

1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt

Make the Sponge: Heat the beer briefly to about 110 to 115 degrees, or until it feels nicely warm, not hot, on your pinkie finger. Set aside. In a large bowl, or the bowl of a heavy duty stand mixer, whisk together the 1 cup bread flour, pinch of sugar and salt. Whisk in the warm water and then the beer until the mixture is smooth, about 1 minute or less. Set the sponge aside to rise for 30 to 45 minutes, until bubbly. Do not try to speed this process.

Once the sponge is ready, if using the mixer, attach the bread hook and add in the first 2 cups of bread flour and the salt and slowly start the mixer. If working by hand, add these ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon. Once the spoon becomes difficult to work with, switch to kneading by hand. Once these ingredients are well incorporated, begin adding more flour, 1/2 cup at a time, up to 2 cups, as needed. Knead until smooth. This process should take about a total of 5 minutes. 

Loaves risen, after 6 hours; ready to bake
Set the dough into a greased bowl, turning once to coat. If using a heavy duty mixer, just remove the dough hook and leave the dough in the bowl. Cover the bowl with a towel and set aside to rise until about tripled in volume. Do not try to speed the rising process. The rising time should be about 2 hours or so.

Once risen, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into two equal pieces. Gently knead out the large air bubbles and roll each piece into a log shape, then using palms and a rocking motion, roll out to long narrow loaves. If you own a French bread pan, grease the pan. Line with parchment if desired. Alternatively, grease a baking sheet and strew with cornmeal; set the formed loaves on the baking sheet, well apart. Brush the loaves with oil, then gently dust with a little flour. Make 1/4 inch deep slashes diagonally across the loaves, about 4-inches apart. Cover the loaves lightly and set in the refrigerator for 6 to 12 hours for a very slow rise.

To Bake: Preheat oven to 425 (400 on Convection). Remove the bread from the refrigerator. Mix together the 1/4 cup water with the 1/4 teaspoon salt. Using a pastry brush, gently brush this over the loaves. Set the pan in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, brushing with the salt water once more about half way through the baking time.  When done, the loaves sound hollow when tapped. If you own an instant thermometer, the internal temperature should be about 204 degrees. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Great Pasta Salad as a Side or a Meal

I have been making variations of this pasta salad for a long time now; probably close to 20 years. It uses pasta of a kind that will have enough little nooks and crannies that will pick up and hold the little lentils, bits of vegetables or cheese. I have most often used bowtie pasta, but medium shells will work, or even something like penne. 

I made it again a couple of days ago, and it always strikes me how much I love this combination.  The cheese used can be varied. Feta makes a wonderful combination if you don't care for blue cheese, which is what I used in the recipe this time. The herbs could be cilantro or basil or parsley. I think dill would also be tasty, depending on what cheese is used. I tossed in a jar of mushrooms this time, but in summer, fresh chopped heirloom tomatoes would be an exquisite addition. Try using different lentils if you have them. I am going to try this again with little green DePuy lentils one of these days.
Pasta with Lentils and Blue Cheese

I love this salad. Most times that I make it, I eat it as my meal. It has pasta, vegetables, lentils and cheese. More than enough for a meal. If you are a die-hard carnivore, it can certainly be a side dish. I made it the evening I grilled steaks (when we had a break in the cold weather and I could get out the grill), so we ate it as a side dish. Tonight I will have it for dinner on its own. I think the salad tastes best just off-warm. Personal preference. It can be eaten hot, cold, or anywhere in between.

Pasta and Lentils with Blue Cheese

Serves 6 - 8

1/2 cup brown lentils
1/2 pound pasta (shells, bowties, fusilli, etc) 
1 tablespoon salt for cooking pasta
1 cup pasta cooking water1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 carrot, grated or julienned
1 large or 2 small stalks celery, sliced thinly
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 roasted red bell pepper, peeled, seeded, chopped (or use a small jar, drained)
1 jar (6 ounces dry weight) mushroom slices
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 pound (about 1/2 cup) blue cheese crumbles or Feta
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (or basil, or parsley)

Set the lentils into a saucepan and add water to just cover. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until tender, about 30 to 35 minutes.

While lentils are cooking, bring a medium pot of water to boil. Once boiling, add the tablespoon of salt to the water and then the pasta. Cook the pasta for the time given on the packaging. Once done, scoop out 1 cup of the pasta water; set aside. Drain the pasta and set in a large bowl.

While those two things are cooking, heat a large skillet, then add the olive oil. Add in the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and cook until just tender. Pour the vegetables into the bowl with the pasta, along with the cooked lentils, the red bell pepper and mushrooms. Add in the cheese and herb of choice and toss well to combine. Taste for salt. This dish is wonderful with lots of freshly cracked black pepper.


My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Trying Out New Bread Recipes

I have 4 guys coming to visit in a few days, ostensibly for a fishing trip. One is our friend Rich, and the other 3 are his buddies. My husband doesn't fish, doesn't eat fish, so he will not be a part of their excursions. But having 4 extra men in the house, I figure I should have some things made ahead, trying to make my life a little easier. Each time Rich visits, I end up standing in the kitchen all day long, either trying out a new recipe (like during pheasant hunting season), or putting together a particular meal my husband believes Rich absolutely must try. I understand that this is kudos to my cooking skills, that he wants his best friend to try these various meals. Still, I end up so exhausted some days, making a meal that I would have ordinarily planned weeks ahead and have prepared half the items  many days in advance. My husband has no concept of what he asks me to do, because he doesn't cook except for making himself an egg, or a salad. Be that as it may, I am trying to be somewhat prepared for 4 extra men about the house.

Cinnamon Raisin Bread, braided

I decided to make some various loaves of different types of bread. Some of the guys may be on a diet, or some may be doing a low carb diet - I have no idea. But in my general knowledge of men, they love bread. One of the breads I tried out was Cinnamon Raisin Bread. I read a recipe in a book I have, but true to form, I cannot ever seem to follow a recipe. I have a pathological need to experiment, change things, even if I have never tried the recipe. Sometimes it's just because I prefer a different ingredient; sometimes because I don't care for the way a recipe is made or put together. In this case, there were a few changes I made to the basic recipe, but not changing the overall amount. I have not had good results with this particular book in the past, either, so I should just scrap that book, but I decided to try again. The book said the recipe made 2 loaves. Yikes.

Back in the 1970s there was a British sitcom called "Good Neighbors". My husband and I both love that sitcom, and have all the episodes. We've probably watched them all more than 20 times. One, called "The Thing in the Cellar", ended with Barbara having experimented making bread in her wood burning oven and showing her husband Tom the result: a hugely over-sized loaf soaring far above the edges of the pan. She deadpanned, "I think I used too much mixture." Having been making bread since long before those shows became a regular part of my life, I found this exceedingly funny. After making two loaves of Cinnamon Raisin Bread out of that first recipe, I rather felt the same way. The loaves were far too large for the pans, and took over an hour to bake. They were really tasty; that was not a problem. I resolved to try again.

Double-rolled loaf of Cinnamon Raisin Bread
The second time around I did many more things differently. The original recipe called for making a "sponge", but the amounts of flour used made such a dry sponge it hardly worked as such. I changed the amounts of flour and it worked beautifully. The first time, I had those huge loaves split and leak the cinnamon, sugar, butter mixture all over the oven, smoking up the kitchen. I made the same amount of cinnamon, sugar, butter mixture the second time; silly me. I had planned to make less, after having the problem of the mess in the oven. However, I just could not bring myself to skimp on the filling. It is the best part, after all! I should have listened to myself the first time. Oh well. I got the dough perfect; rich and moist. The filling is amazingly good; just need to use less of it. Here is what I did:

Sponge just mixed; after 45 minute rising

Cinnamon Raisin Bread

Makes 3 loaves

1 cup milk
1 cup water
1/3 cup honey
2 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon + 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast

Heat the milk, water and honey to 105 - 115 degrees (I did this in short bursts in the microwave - if it gets too hot, allow it to cool to that temperature). Pour this mixture into a large bowl, or the bowl of a heavy duty stand mixer, such as a Kitchen Aid. Whisk in the flour and instant yeast. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and set aside for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the mixture has grown markedly and is bubbling.

Dough just finished; after rising 2 hours
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
3 eggs
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 to 3 1/2 cups more bread flour

If mixing by hand, use a wooden spoon to beat the melted butter and the eggs into the sponge. Add in 1 cup of the bread flour and the salt and mix thoroughly. If using a mixer, set the bowl with the paddle attachment and beat in these ingredients. Begin adding more of the flour, 1/2 cup at a time. Once the dough is too stiff for the spoon or paddle attachment, switch to the dough hook, or turn out to knead in more flour by hand. The dough should end up still quite sticky. Do not add more flour than needed to make the dough come together. Knead for about 5 minutes. If by hand, now grease a bowl and set the dough in the bowl, turning once to grease all sides. With the mixer, I just remove the dough hook and leave the bread right in the mixer bowl for its rising time. Set the bowl in a warm place for the bread to rise until doubled; 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Cinnamon Filling

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons good quality cinnamon

Beat these three ingredients together until very light and creamy; set aside.

I wanted to try two different ideas on forming the loaves. One idea was to make long thin strands of dough, rolled with the cinnamon filling, and then making them into a braid, as I do often with my Mom's bread recipe. My second idea was to divide the dough for a loaf into 2 sections. Roll one out and smear with the cinnamon filling and top with raisins. Roll out the second portion, set it atop the first, right over the cinnamon filling and raisins, then smear this piece with more cinnamon filling and more raisins. Then, roll the two together into a loaf. It is more time consuming to make the braided loaves, but I had far less trouble with the braided loaf; a) leaking into the oven and b) baking in a timely fashion. Here are the steps for making a braid:

First, take a third of the dough. Further divide this third into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a long and narrow rectangle, approximately 5 x 15 inches. Divide the Cinnamon Filling into three portions. Divide one of the portions equally among the three rectangles; spread the filling to within 1/2 inch of the edges of the rectangle. Sprinkle with a total of 1/2 cup of raisins divided between the three rectangles. Begin rolling up each rectangle along the longest edge, making a thin rope. Pinch the seam together all along the length. Repeat with all three rectangles. If desired, pecans may also be strewn over the cinnamon filling, along with the raisins.
Gently move the ends of the three ropes so they are together, pinching ends together. Separate the three legs and begin to gently lift one leg over, exaggeratedly creating a wide braid. When finished braiding, pinch the final ends together. Gently lift into a greased 9 x 5 x 2 1/2-inch loaf pan.

If you want smooth loaves, you may just take one third of the total dough and roll to a long rectangle no wider than the length of the loaf pan. Spread 1/3 of the Cinnamon Filling over the rectangle, sprinkle on 1/2 cup of raisins, roll the rectangle from a narrow end, pinch edges to seal and gently pinch ends, turning under before setting into a greased  loaf pan. 

My second bright idea with the loaf was to double up the goodness, as it were, making two layers of dough, one atop the other:
Using 1/3 of the total dough, further divide this third into two equal pieces. Roll out each piece into a rectangle no wider than the loaf pan is long. Use a third of the total Cinnamon Filling, dividing this third into two portions. Spread the filling to within 1/2 inch of the edges of the first rectangle. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of raisins. Set the second rectangle on top of the first one. Spread the rest of the portion of Cinnamon Filling onto this second rectangle. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup raisins. Begin to roll the two layers together into one loaf. Pinch the edges to seal, then gently tuck the ends under slightly, pinching them to seal. Set the loaf into a greased loaf pan as above. Repeat whichever one of these methods you desire for the other third of the dough. Set the loaves to rise in a warm place until the loaves show about an inch above the rims of the pan, about 50 minutes to 1 1/2 hours. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (325 on Convection). If you want the tops of the loaves to be glossy brown, brush gently with one egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon of water. Be careful not to let the egg run down inside the edges of the pan or it could glue the sides of the loaf to the pan and prevent rising. Set the loaves to bake for 45 to 55 minutes.The internal temperature should be about 204 degree before the loaves are done.

Remove the loaves to wire racks to cool completely. The loaves may be frozen until needed: large zip top bags work wonderfully for this purpose.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Crock Pot to the Rescue - Again

There are days I am just unprepared. No ideas in mind for dinner at all. It's already after 10:30 AM and I have nothing thawed. What to do?

I went to the freezer and mulled a bit. We have a freezer full of a half a cow, so it isn't that there aren't options. Still. It's been such a long winter. Far too cold except very recently to even consider grilling. I have made my One Skillet Hamburger Meal about 15 times in the last few months. At least it seems that way. I've made stews over and over. A couple of roasts, either in the crock pot or oven. The trouble is that most of the meat is either hamburger or roasts. Some of them are cut strangely and look far different than what you see in the supermarket. Anyway, to make a long story shorter, I got out a chuck roast.
Crock Pot BBQ Chuck served on Root Vegetable Flatbread

The roast was probably about 2 1/2 or 3 pounds, though I forgot to weigh it to see. It was very thick, but small enough around to set into my crock pot. To speed things up just a bit, I put the roast into the microwave to defrost just a little. I never thaw something completely in the microwave. I hate to even use the microwave at all, frankly. With that in mind, I set it to defrost something that weighed 1 pound. I turned it over twice during that short period. It was still hard as a rock when I was done, but I know it had to have some effect. 

Next I wondered what to do for flavor. My husband has always loved roast beef, but since he had some bad teeth, then had to have one extracted, and it didn't heal as well as it might have, due to constantly chomping down on things, he has been rather resistant to the idea of a roast. The pieces are larger, and it's too much bother to cut them smaller for eating. So I have made a couple of roasts, but he doesn't come back for leftovers. Not good, because that usually means I need to make something else. And who gets to eat the leftovers? 
Sweet Tangy BBQ Sauce

I recently had made a new batch of my Sweet Tangy BBQ Sauce. I was thinking BBQ, though I had never really done this with beef. I decided to chop a half onion left in the fridge and threw that into the bottom of the crock pot. I set the roast on top of the onions, to allow some juices to get underneath the meat while cooking. I poured on 1 cup of the BBQ Sauce. I happened to have a bottle of Fonseca Bin 27 Port setting on the counter (we hadn't gotten around to finishing the bottle), so I poured in 1/2 cup of the port. I added 3 cloves of garlic, sliced very thinly, 2 little bay leaves and a teaspoon of salt. Put the lid on, turned it to the higher temperature and hoped for the best.

After 6 hours, the meat was tender and there was plenty of sauce in the pot, though it was thinner than my husband likes. It did have a lot of fat floating on top, so I took some paper towels and did a quick slide over the surface to pick up fat. It took quite a few of those half-sheets sized paper towels to get most of the extra fat off there. I took the roast out and mixed up about 3/4 cup of water with a half cup of flour and whisked that into the pot. Still on high, it came back to a simmer quickly, so I covered it and let it go. Meanwhile, I started pulling the meat off the bones and other thick things in there - I tell you, this "chuck" looks nothing like chuck in the grocery. All in all, there wasn't that much meat, considering the size of the original roast. It was still plenty though, so once I had it off bones, and took off any fat, I shredded the meat and added it back to the pot. It tasted really great. I am sure the port was not 100% necessary, but it would add just that little sweetness, so it's up to you.

Crock Pot BBQ Chuck

Crock Pot BBQ Chuck

Serves about 6

1 chuck roast 2 1/2 to 3 pounds
1 cup Sweet Tangy BBQ Sauce, or your favorite brand
1/2 cup port, or other liquid
1 small onion, diced
2 - 3 gloves garlic, sliced thinly
1 or 2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt

To Thicken:
1/2 to 3/4 cup water
1/2 cup flour

Place the onion in the bottom of the crock pot and set the roast on top. Pour the BBQ sauce and port over the roast and add in the garlic, bay leaves and salt. Cover and cook about 6 hours on high if the roast is frozen or mostly frozen, or on low if the meat is thawed. Turn the meat over once during this period so both sides are flavored well. 

Once cooked through, remove the roast from the pot and set on a plate until cool enough to handle. Meanwhile, whisk together briskly the water and flour. If it is too lumpy, pour it through a strainer into the crock pot to thicken the sauce, whisking at first to blend well. Cover the pot while working with the meat, allowing the sauce to thicken and the starchy taste to cook out.

Remove any bones or large chunks of fat from the meat. Shred the meat as desired, then add it back to the pot to reheat through. This is good on a bun, or on my Root Vegetable Flatbreads.

I had made another recipe sort of on the fly the night before. It was a Root Vegetable Flatbread of a sort. It turned out almost like one big hash brown with cheese on top. I used grated potato, carrot, parsnip, scallion, sundried tomatoes, egg, flour, baking powder and salt. It was topped with some cheese at the end of baking. The cheese is up to your taste, or what is handy. I used a combination of shredded cheddar and some leftover 3-cheese Italian blend. Shredded Pepperjack would be great, or cheddar and jack cheese. It tasted good, but it was not "wow" good. I made myself some eggs and used the flatbread to stack with the eggs. It was a very good use. I want to play with that recipe a bit more, though there was nothing specifically wrong with it as it stands. When I finished with the Chuck Roast with BBQ I though that might taste good on that flatbread, and it did. It was really tasty!

Root Vegetable Flatbread

about 12 or 16 thin, square or rectangle slices

1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, shredded
1 carrot peeled, shredded
1 parsnip, peeled, shredded
4 large scallions, minced
3 cloves roasted garlic, smashed
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
pepper, to taste
4 sundried tomato halves, minced
2 eggs
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups grated cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees (350 if on Convection). Place the first 8 ingredients into a mixing bowl. Add the eggs and olive oil and mix to combine. Stir together the flour with the baking powder, then mix in to combine. Grease or spray a medium baking sheet with sides. Spread the mixture evenly over the surface. Bake the pan in the oven and bake for about 35 minutes. Remove from oven and strew the cheese over top evenly. Bake for 5 minutes longer, until cheese is melted. 

This is what I did with the flatbread the previous night for my dinner.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.