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French Bread

22 Nov

In honor of today being my birthday, I am posting my absolute favorite recipe of all time: french bread.  In keeping with both my, and many of my friends’, ongoing efforts to cook from scratch, craft, draft, build, hammer, plant, knit, eat, think and dream for ourselves and with ourselves – with the help of friends and local artisans and experts, of course – I decided this summer that I would make my own bread too.  I started shopping around for a breadmaker but came across Beth Hensperger’s The Bread Bible first.  I thought, why not give the old elbow grease and oven method a try before spending a minor fortune on a machine that would do it for me.

I haven’t looked back.  There is nothing better than fresh bread from the oven, made from scratch, molded by hand.  And all it takes is a bowl, a whisk, an oven and a little muscle.  Hensperger’s book has changed my entire thinking about cooking; it has really changed my life.  These days, when I’ve had a bad day, all frustration is spewed out and soaked up into the yeasty, welcome embrace of my bread.  I whisk that dough like I’m slashing through thick forest of problems.  And then I kick its ass.  I punch it and toss it and squeeze it until I simply don’t want to anymore.  Because there’s no rules in bread.  It’s done when you say it’s done.  It’s done right when you like it.  My bread and I reconcile during kneading, as my fingers get submerged in its warm and sticky embrace.  And at the end of it all, there’s me, and there’s this springy little ball of purposeful dough standing ready for what may come.

When I’ve had a good day, you may spot me through my 3rd story window, prancing from room to room, whisking away at my bowl while jibberjabbing about my day to Tom or to another friend who’s stopped by.  I’ve been known to dance to some tunes while kneading (it helps, trust me).  Hensperger compares kneading to Tai Chi, but I don’t have the patience for all that.  For me, it’s a goofy looking dance at best, but we all relax in our own ways.

The real joy of making bread is the act of using your hands, getting them dirty, covered in dough balls, physically contributing to the bread’s creation.  You know that bread.  You know what it’s made of and where it came from and how it was molded into what you’re now eating.  It’s a little work and that work makes it so much more rewarding.

And to think, I almost bought the breadmaker…

2 cups warm water (105-115 degrees F)

1 1/2 tablespoons dry active yeast

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon salt

3 cups bread flour

2 – 3 cups all-purpose flour

1 egg

Sprinkling of cornmeal

Bubble: Pour water into a large bowl.  Spread yeast and sugar over the surface of the water.  Whisk to combine.  Let this mixture rise and bubble for 10-15 minutes, or until the surface appears foamy and bubbly.

Whisk: Add 2 cups bread flour and whisk until fully combined (3-5 minutes).  Add remaining bread flour and all-purpose 1/2 cup at a time.  Whisk thoroughly until fully combined before adding the next 1/2 cup.  I usually use only 2 cups of the all-purpose flour, but continue adding flour until the dough just pulls away from the edges of the bowl.

Knead: Flip the dough from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface.  Knead the bread for 5-10 minutes or until a springy ball of dough is formed.  Add flour to hands and surface as required to prevent sticking.

Rise: Lightly oil a large bowl.  Place dough in the oiled bowl, flipping the dough once to lightly cover the entire surface in oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  You can either place the bowl in the fridge overnight or place the dough at room temperature for 1 -2 hours*

Prep: If you have a pizza/bread stone, use it.  If not, any old baking pan will do.**  Preheat the oven to 450 and keep the pizza stone in the oven as it preheats so the stone is nice and hot when you start baking.  This will allow the bottom of the bread to crisp evenly with the rest.  As the oven preheats, flip the dough back out onto a lightly floured surface and break into 3 even pieces.  If the dough seems too sticky, knead in additional flour as needed.  Shape the three portions either into round balls for loaves or long ovals for baguettes.  Cover with the plastic wrap and allow to rise as the oven preheats (approximately 30 minutes).  As the bread rises and the oven preheats, whisk 1 egg into 1-2 tablespoons water in a small bowl.

Bake: Pull the stone from the oven and sprinkle the surface with cornmeal.  This will prevent sticking and add a nice texture to the base of the bread.  Place the 3 loaves/baguettes onto the stone.  Cut a shallow “x” into the top of each loaf or slice 3 shallow lines across the top of the baguette. Glaze the outside of the bread with the egg/water mixture.  This will create a crispy and shiny crust.  Turn the oven down to 400 degrees and spray or flick a little water into the oven.  Again, this will help create a crispy crust.  Then place the stone with bread into the oven and bake for 35-45 minutes (or until the crust reaches the desired crispness and color).

Cool: Pull the bread off the stone as it will remain hot for quite a while.  At this point, most good cooks would suggest allowing the bread to cool, but let’s be serious, the bread is best when it’s hot out of the oven.  I can rarely resist breaking of a piece to try while it is hot enough to melt a little olive oil, cheese or butter.  However, for storage purposes, you will want to let it cool before placing it in a bag on your counter.  The bread usually lasts 2-3 days at room temperature.

Adapted from the French Bread recipe in Beth Hensperger’s The Bread Bible

* I have found that the bread turns out best if you can allow it to rise for 1-2 hours at room temperature, press the bread back into the bowl, then allow it to rise for another 1 hour after that.  However, since every day can’t be Sunday and seriously, who has a spare 3 hours after work, before night classes and between drinks with friends?  I usually use the overnight method and it still turns out just fine.

**I strongly recommend investing in a stone (or asking for one for your birthday or stealing one from you parents’ gigantic, awesome collection of long-unused kitchen gear, which is clearly what Tom and I have done) because it simply bakes everything better.  Every kind of bread and pizza simply turns out better on a stone.  And it keeps your food warm for quite a while after you’ve pulled it out of the oven.

Blueberry-Peach Focaccia

25 Jul

1-1/3 cups warm water (105 degrees to 115 degrees F)

1 pkg. active dry yeast

4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp. sugar

3-1/4 to 3-3/4 cups all-purpose flour

tsp. kosher or coarse sea salt

peaches

cup fresh blueberries

Tbsp. sugar

tsp. vanilla

to 3 Tbsp. small fresh basil leaves (optional)

1.In a small bowl combine the warm water, yeast, 3 Tbsp. of the olive oil, and 1 tsp. sugar.

Let stand 5 minutes or until bubbly.

In a large bowl combine 3 cups of the flour and 1 tsp. of the salt. Add yeast mixture to flour mixture. Stir until combined. If necessary, stir in enough of the remaining flour to make a dough.

Turn out onto a lightly-floured surface and knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough that is nearly smooth but still slightly sticky (about 3 minutes).

Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turning once.

Cover. Let rise in a warm place until double in size (1 to 1-1/2 hours).

2.Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a 15x10x1-inch baking pan with parchment paper; lightly oil paper. Turn dough into prepared pan and gently press evenly into the pan. Loosely cover; let stand in a warm place while halving, pitting, and slicing peaches.

3.Arrange peaches and blueberries atop dough in pan. Sprinkle with 3 tbsp. sugar and the remaining 1 tsp. salt. In a small bowl stir together remaining 1 tbsp. olive oil and the vanilla. Drizzle over focaccia.

4.Bake about 30 minutes or until peaches are softened and bread is golden brown. Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with basil just before serving. Makes 24 servings.

Make-ahead: After placing dough in the oiled bowl, cover and chill dough up to 24 hours. Let dough stand at room temperature for 1 to 1-1/2 hours or until the dough is double in size. Continue as directed in step 2.

Better Homes and Gardens, August, 2010

This is one of my favorite sweet snacks and/or desserts to bring to bigger get-togethers.  It’s both salty and sweet, light and fruity, soft and crunchy.   I also think it allows for some fun experimentation – you could substitute strawberries or raspberries for the blueberries, plums or plucots for the peaches.   You can get creative with the fruit arrangements.  And so far I’ve never served this to anyone who didn’t like it.  Perfect for hot summer block parties and cooler evening grill-outs.

Vegetable Frittata

2 Mar

  • 3 large eggs, plus 3 egg whites
  • 3/4 cup 2% reduced-fat cottage cheese
  • 4 ounces smoked gouda cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped Kosher salt
  • 1 16-ounce package frozen mixed vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower and carrots), thawed
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 scant teaspoon paprika
  • 4 slices multigrain bread

Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees F. Whisk the whole eggs and whites in a bowl. Add the cottage cheese and whisk until almost smooth. Whisk in the gouda and rosemary.

Cook the garlic in the olive oil in a 10-inch nonstick ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat until it starts to brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the onion, season with salt and cook 2 minutes. Add the vegetables, increase the heat to high and cook until just tender, about 5 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium. Spread the egg mixture evenly in the pan. Cook, undisturbed, until a thin crust forms on the bottom, about 2 minutes. Run a rubber spatula around the edge to release the egg from the pan. Continue cooking until the bottom is golden, 2 to 3 more minutes. Sprinkle with the parmesan and paprika; transfer to the oven and bake until just set, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the oven, cover and let sit, 5 to 7 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve with the bread.

Food Network Magazine, March 2011

This is the perfect recipe for those sunny yet chilly February mornings.  The rosemary adds piney, earthy tones and the gouda adds smoke, bringing back flavors of fall and winter.  At the same time, the wealth of veggies adds a fresh, complex flavor, hearkening much-needed spring.

I used the Harvest Blend of frozen veggies from Trader Joe’s which includes watercress, baby corn, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and whole green beans.  You could also use fresh veggies, whichever veggies you prefer,  just be sure to saute in a little olive oil until tender before adding to the frittata.  I would also recommend cutting the onion in half because the whole onion has the potential to overpower the mild eggs.

Banana Bread

23 Feb

  • 1 1/2  cups  mashed ripe banana
  • 1/3  cup  plain fat-free yogurt
  • 5  tablespoons  butter, melted
  • 2  large eggs
  • 1/2  cup  granulated sugar
  • 1/2  cup  packed brown sugar
  • 6.75  ounces  all-purpose flour (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/4  cup  ground flaxseed
  • 3/4  teaspoon  baking soda
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/2  teaspoon  ground cinnamon
  • 1/8  teaspoon  ground allspice
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/3  cup  powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons  1% low-fat milk

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Combine first 4 ingredients in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed. Add granulated and brown sugars; beat until combined.

3. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (through ground allspice).

Add flour mixture to banana mixture; beat just until blended.

Pour batter into a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 55 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven; cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack.  Remove bread from pan; cool completely. Combine powdered sugar and milk, stirring until smooth; drizzle over bread.

Maureen Callahan, Cooking Light, OCTOBER 2010

The biggest challenge to making this banana bread is hoarding the bananas from the hungry banana thieves rummaging your kitchen (in my case, my boyfriend Tom) until they’ve fully ripened.  Once you’ve got your bananas, the rest couldn’t be easier – measure, mix and bake.  I like this particular recipe because the flax adds a little texture and the glaze makes it just a bit sweeter.  The glaze also makes it look like you added extra effort – without any effort at all.   I also recommend adding a handful of walnuts.

Mushroom-Asparagus Strata

31 Dec

  • 8 oz.  asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 5 cups  French bread cubes
  • 2 cups  shredded Gruyére or white cheddar cheese, (8 oz.)
  • 1/2 cup  chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup  chopped chives or green onions
  • 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 10 eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups  milk

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boiling. Add asparagus; cook 5 minutes or until bright green.

2. In a greased 3-quart baking dish spread half the bread cubes. Top with cheese, onion, chives and half the mushrooms and asparagus. Top with remaining bread.

3. In a bowl whisk together four of the eggs and the milk. Evenly pour over layers in dish. Press down bread pieces into the egg milk mixture with the back of a spoon. Top with remaining mushrooms and asparagus. Cover; refrigerate until ready to bake.

4. Bake, uncovered, in a 325 degrees F oven 30 minutes. With the back of a wooden spoon, press 6 indentations in top of strata. Pour a whole egg into each indentation. Bake 20 to 25 minutes more or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in center of strata registers 170 degrees F and eggs are set. Let stand 15 minutes.

5. Cut into squares to serve. If desired, drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and cracked black pepper. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Better Homes & Gardens, December 2010

This was originally a Ham-Asparagus Strata, but I substituted mushrooms for ham since I personally don’t eat much of the stuff.  If you like meat in your breakfast, use 8 oz. ham instead of the 8 oz. mushrooms.  I made this to celebrate the new year – mixed it up last night and popped it in the oven this morning.  The pictures say it all.  Perfect way to start the holiday.

Happy New Year!