Friday, August 29, 2008

Sesame Bread

Brett did it again!  He made another beautiful homemade loaf of bread.   Thank goodness he halved the recipe because it still ended up making a gigantic loaf.  I guess it was supposed to make two giant loaves.

He didn't want it to look exactly like the traditionally braided onion loaf that he made recently so he brainstormed some ideas.  What he came up with was the "five man weave."  For those of you who have played basketball, you know what I'm talking about.  I actually had to practice on some string first to see if it would even work, and it did!  You just take the outside strand and cross it over the next two and then do the same with the opposite side.  It worked pretty well, but in the end Brett still thought it looked too similar to a traditional braid.  Any ideas out there for different looking bread braiding techniques?

As usual the bread was yummy, but it was slightly more dense.  We think the tightness of the "five man weave" may have contributed to that.  The apartment smelled WONDERFUL for a couple of days.  There's nothing like the smell of fresh baked bread. 

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Tortilla Espanola

Ugh.  Well I feel like I've posted so many successful cooking endeavors in a row that the cards were just stacked against me.  I found a recipe for Baked Tortilla Espanola in the June issue of Martha Stewart Living that sounded tasty.  I've never had Tortilla Espanola before, but the components sounded good to me: potatoes, red onion, garlic, and eggs.  Now I will admit that it is probably not entirely the recipe's fault.  I did leave out what I think may have been a key ingredient: saffron.  I don't keep that on hand, and I wasn't about to buy an expensive bottle of it when I only needed 4 strands, so I (mistakenly) just left it out.  Also I hate buying a giant packet of fresh herbs when I only need a sprig or two so I (mistakenly) substituted dried thyme for fresh.  2 mistakes before even starting is bad... but of course I didn't know they were mistakes yet.

The best thing about trying this recipe was that I got to use my mandoline!  I love this tool.  It makes quick, neat work of anything!  I buzzed through a red onion and 2 potatoes in record time.
Everything was sauteed in olive oil then covered and cooked for 20 minutes with stirring halfway through.  It stuck really bad to the bottom of the pan.  We took the potato/onion mixture out and mixed it with an egg/thyme mixture.  I deglazed the pan with some chicken broth just to get the burnt stuff out for the next step.  More olive oil went into the pan and we poured everything back in and let it cook for a couple of minutes before putting it in the oven to bake.
It took much longer than stated in the recipe for the eggs to set.  When they finally did, Brett and I were quite unimpressed with the results.  Brett's comment was, "It tastes like it looks... tan."  It was bland and boring.  It wasn't terrible.  We ate every bit of it.  But it wasn't good either.  I'm sure the saffron would have added a lot of flavor, and I'm sure fresh thyme wouldn't have turned the whole thing brown.  Oh well.  At least I got to use the mandoline :)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Amaretto Cake

Yesterday was my grandma's birthday, so in her honor I made her Amaretto Cake recipe. Even though she lives 2000 miles away and I can't celebrate with her in person, eating her cake is kind of like a getting a little hug from her. Happy Birthday Nona!

Brett and I aren't drinkers at all, but we do have a big bottle of Amaretto in the cabinet just for this cake. I also have to go to a different grocery store to get orange cake mix which is kind of hard to find. If you can't find it, you can just use yellow cake mix, but the orange really gives it extra oomph.

I have a beautiful chrysanthemum bundt pan that I make this in. Thank goodness for "Pam for Baking!" The pan is difficult to clean but I think the pros far outweigh the cons. One little petal broke off, but I kind of just stuck it back on there.

The cake is very easy to make until the last step. The first time I did this I was very scared. This time at least I knew what to expect but I was still a little bit concerned. You take 1/2 a cup of Amaretto put it in a saucepan and light it with a match. We had some great blue flames, and it burned for a long time (maybe a minute.) All the alcohol burns out and when the fire dies all the way down you pour it over the cake. Unfortunately the flash on the camera made the flames invisible. It was quite a show.

Brett and I ate the super moist cake, telepathically wished Nona a happy birthday, and watched the Olympics. What a great night!

Amaretto Cake

1 box of yellow or orange cake mix

3.5 oz package of vanilla instant pudding

4 eggs

1/2 cup of water

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup orange marmalade

1/2 cup amaretto

1 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Mix everything together, pour into a bundt pan and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Remove from the pan and while the cake is still warm, put another 1/2 cup of amaretto in a saucepan and light it with a match. When the alcohol burns out (the flame goes out), pour it over the cake.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Mark's Favorite Chicken

Mark's Favorite Chicken is named for my cousin, and is also known in the family as "Chicken on the Ritz." This used to be a staple for Brett and me back in college, but it isn't exactly health food so we cut back considerably.

As many of you know, chicken is my least favorite thing to cook. So instead of making this from scratch I TOTALLY cheat. Whenever I get hungry for chicken or really just can't think of anything to cook, I buy one of those roasted grocery store chickens. They are absolutely delicious and I never have to see it raw. We eat regular chicken one night and then Brett kindly pulls all the leftovers off the carcass and puts it in a container for the next night. He deals with the carcass because if I see spine I feel the gag reflex kicking in.

With the leftover chicken I make half the recipe of Mark's Favorite Chicken, so feel free to double this. You just put the torn up chicken in the bottom of a baking dish, mix together 4 ounces of sour cream (I buy light,) 1/2 a can of cream of chicken soup (I get Healthy Request,) and 1/4 cup of chicken broth (whatever you do, DO NOT buy low sodium...YUCK!) Then you pour the mixture over the chicken, top it with crunched up Ritz crackers and poppy seeds. It bakes for half an hour at 350 degrees and it is delicious. I always serve it with rice and mix it all up together on my plate. Mmmmm.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Lemon Blueberry "Bread"

When Brett and I were in Philadelphia, we had the pleasure of eating at City Tavern.  The original City Tavern opened in 1773 and hosted many historical figures such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Paul Revere.  To think that our founding fathers literally sat in that room was a surreal experience.  It just makes them seem more like real people that actually ate and drank as opposed to American icons.  Well, after eating there I bought a gorgeous cookbook (signed by the chef!) and discovered quickly upon opening it that the actual City Tavern burned down in 1834 and wasn't rebuilt until...1975!  So it wasn't actually the room that those guys had been in, but at least the replica was built on the same site.

The cookbook is (of course) a baking and dessert cookbook and it is full of somewhat authentic recipes from the Revolutionary War period.  My debut recipe from this cookbook was Lemon Blueberry Bread.  I put it in quotes in the subject line because I don't think that being made in a loaf pan necessarily deems it bread.  This is totally and absolutely cake.

I had a great time making it.  I actually took my time, which is rare for me.  I don't know why I always rush through my projects, but this time I took a page from Brett's book and just went slow and enjoyed myself.  And wouldn't you know, when I go slow there aren't any mistakes!  Oh sure, a couple of blueberries rolled out of control off the counter, but that's nothing.

The recipe said to let it bake for 50-60 minutes, but it actually ended up being closer to 65 or 70 minutes.  That darn toothpick just wouldn't come out clean!

I decided to display it on a platter that I had bought a while ago but had yet to use.  I thought it was very appropriate.  I also served it on the accompanying appropriate dishes.  So cute!!  They are too big for dessert plates (I bought them as breakfast plates) but it was just too perfect an opportunity.

Look at all those blueberries!  Yum!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Bread Pudding

The best dessert we had on our trip was bread pudding at Elephant and Castle in Boston.  I've already talked about it in a previous post, and as promised, I made my own version recently.  I will admit that it did not even compare, but it was still yummy nonetheless.

I had 2 recipes to choose from and I went with my mom's (surprisingly) more healthy version with 2 eggs as opposed to the recipe with 15 eggs!  Can you imagine?!  I did make one change in my mom's recipe to try and emulate Elephant and Castle's.  My mom's, as is very common in bread pudding, calls for torn up pieces of regular sandwich bread.  I used some leftover French bread and I tried to keep it in the biggest pieces possible.  At Elephant and Castle it was like the whole thing was one solid piece of bread which I think is what made it so unique.  Anyway, the final product tasted good and is really healthy as far as desserts are concerned (translation- no butter.)

I even included raisins which I'm still trying to decide if I like or not.  When I was a kid my mom would make bread pudding half with raisins and half without and I would always take from the without side.  I think when I make this again, it will be minus the raisins.  Just because I want to like something doesn't mean I do :)

Here's my mom's recipe for you to try:

Bread Pudding
4 slices of bread, buttered and quartered
1/3 cup of raisins 
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup boiling water
1 tsp vanilla
4 tsps sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Place bread pieces in a buttered 1 1/2 quart baking dish.  Sprinkle raisins over  bread.

Mix eggs, 1/4 cup of sugar, salt, evaporated milk, water, and vanilla.  Pour over raisins.  Let stand for 10 minutes.

Mix 4 tsps sugar and cinnamon.  Sprinkle over mixture.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Onion Loaf

In our home, Brett is the bread master.  In the past 7 months he has really taken an interest in baking yeast breads and I've gotta say that I'm incredibly proud of some of the things he's made so far.  But this past week takes the cake!  He made an onion loaf recipe from his trusty Taste of Home Baking Book and it was gorgeous and delicious.

He made the dough as usual (I assisted)  by carefully taking the temperature of the water and milk.  This time, maybe because the weather is slightly warmer, I feel like he got a bigger and faster rise out of the dough.  This bread is different from other breads he's made because it has a filling.  The filling consists of parmesan cheese, paprika, dried minced onion, and butter.  It doesn't look that pretty, but it was good.  He divided the dough into three portions, rolled them out into the specified dimensions, spread the filling out evenly, and then rolled it up jelly roll style.

Once he had done that with all three portions, I got to teach Brett how to braid.  He caught on very quickly and made a gorgeous loaf that he let rise once again.

When it came out of the oven I was so proud of Brett!  I couldn't believe that we had made this in our own little kitchen!  It looked so professional!  It was soft with a hint of the onion mixture running all throughout.  The one thing Brett said he would do differently is not spread the filling toward the edge as much.  In the picture in the cookbook there is a distinct swirl of filling, whereas in ours...not so much.  But all in all the onion loaf (and its baker) gets an A+.

Never fear, Brett and I did not eat the entire gigantic loaf in one evening.  We have had trouble in the past with storing our homemade bread but thank goodness for the internet, because I found the perfect solution.  We got out an old cereal bag that coincidentally Brett had just finished that day, put the bread in it, taped it shut, and put it in a cabinet.  It stayed pretty fresh for a couple of days so we could eat the bread at our leisure.  Easy huh?!