Sunday, February 24, 2013

Variation on a Theme

It's a month later and yet I have to confess to you, I'm still hung up on mixing cruciferous vegetables with cheese product.  I can't help it.  I've always loved cheesy comforting foods, particularly during the winter doldrums, but the addition of some nice healthy crunch is currently irresistible to me.  It keeps the cheese from becoming too rich (I know, I don't know what's wrong with me either).  So basically, rather than making anything new and fascinating, I'm just messing about with old favorites.

For this recipe, I started with the risotto and cheese I posted way back here.

1 T butter
1 leek, pale green and white parts only, minced and rinsed to be free of grit
1 1/2 C arborio rice
2 T dijon mustard
4-5 C veggie stock (Watch this carefully, I needed slightly under 4 cups this time, over 4 last time).
1/2 C grated cheddar cheese
1/2 C grated colby jack cheese (yes, just a cup of whatever cheese makes you happy will work fine)
2-3 C broccoli
salt and pepper as needed

Chop your broccoli into bite sized pieces.  Then steam your broccoli and set it aside. We do ours stovetop in a steamer. I think it takes around 5 minutes, but don't quote me on that. Put the butter and leek in a large pan with high sides. In a pot next to it, heat up the stock. Melt the butter and cook the leek 2-3 minutes until softened. Watch closely so it doesn't burn. Add the arborio rice and cook another 2 minutes or so, turning frequently so the rice gets coated in butter and toasts a bit. Add the mustard, this was sort of a mixing smearing process for me. Add the warm stock about a ladleful at a time. Stir the risotto after you add the stock until it is mostly absorbed (I wait until I can pull a spoon through the risotto without having liquid fill up the track I've made). Then add another ladleful or two. Keep doing this until the stock is gone and the rice is soft (not mushy) but still has some texture. It should take about 18-20 minutes. When the risotto is nearly done, add the cheese and stir. About a minute before you pull it off the stove, add the broccoli and mix well (but gently). Taste to see if it needs salt and pepper. It may not need salt depending on your chicken stock and your cheese, both of which can be salty.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Valentine's Day Sweets and Treats

Valentine's Day usually signals my annual baking fail.  Years past have included an inedible chocolate cake and slightly burnt cookies. So rather than put myself through certain frustration, I'll simply recommend any number of delicious recipes from my archives which I already know will work.  If you're really bent on impressing someone this year, you may want a trial run, just in case you share my bad luck.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Blizzard = Baking

Except we didn't really get a blizzard here.  We got a pretty pathetic snow storm that dropped around five inches of fluffy stuff which started melting as soon as the sun came out.  It was highly disappointing.  This is the cost of living in the mid-Atlantic; you hardly ever get any decent snow. I think it's been two years since we've seen anything even remotely impressive around here.  Sigh.  I wish I were in Boston.*  Anyway, I am nothing if not good at pretending, so I figured I'd bake some bread just as though we'd actually had a blizzard and needed something warming and delicious to snack on.  Of course bread baking means that I'm reaching for Beard On Bread.  Usually, I bake his Homestyle Bread, but keeping my New Year's Resolution in mind (and of course the fact that I didn't have any milk in the house), I flipped through looking for a new recipe. I briefly considered his French Style Bread until I read the part where he advised that it would keep for half a day.  Excellent.  A bread that will go bad in less time than it takes to bake it in the first place.  I finally decided on the Basic White Bread.  As you can see, much like the blizzard, it was a bit of a disappointment.  It had none of the height and color of the Homestyle loaves and while it was tasty, it just wasn't quite as tasty.

*I lived in Boston for the blizzard of 2003, which hit President's Day weekend.  I think it tenuously clings to its place as the most snowfall in record history,  hitting Boston with over 27 inches of snow, so I swear, I know what I'm saying when I wish I were there.

Verdict:  Beard on Bread is a requirement for anyone who wants to bake. Even if I won't be making the White Bread again.

which honestly was tasty, I just prefer the other, and also I probably did something wrong causing it to not rise enough, I swear, it's much more likely that I messed up than James Beard did.

1 package active dry yeast (this is 2 1/4 tsp if you use a jar)
1/2 C warm water + 3/4 C warm water (100 - 115 F)
2 t sugar
2 t salt (Beard calls for a tablespoon.  He is a salt fiend)
3 3/4 - 4 C flour
softened butter, for buttering pans and bowls

Put your yeast, sugar and 1/2 C warm water into a bowl.  Let it sit for about 3-5 minutes. The yeast should get all nice and puffy. While you're waiting for that, combine your flour and salt in a large bowl (I use the KitchenAid stand mixer with dough hook, but Beard works without machinery).  Mix well.  Then add 3/4 C warm water and mix again (not too long, just until incorporated).  Then add your yeast and water and sugar mixture and  mix again. I just let the dough hook do the kneading for me - about 5-10 minutes.  If you want real kneading instructions, go buy Beard on Bread.  I'd be awful at trying to explain it.  Basically, it's done when it's nice and elastic and when you poke it, it springs back.  Butter a very large bowl.  Take your round of dough, and sort of roll it around the bowl, coating it with butter.  Then cover and let sit in a warm draft free place (usually my counter or even in an oven that is not on) until doubled in bulk.  This takes 1-2 hours depending on weather, temperature, etc.  It will no long spring back when you poke it.  Knead it for 3 minutes on a floured board.  Cut it in two and let it sit for five minutes. Pop it into well buttered loaf pans.  You can make one big loaf (maybe in a dutch oven?) or two smaller ones (either in loaf pans or whatever you think will work - I use one loaf pan and one casserole dish).  Let this rise covered in a warm draft free place for 45 minutes to 1 hr 15 minutes until it doubles in bulk.  Then you use water to lightly baste the tops and slit them with a knife.  This slitting was my undoing as the loaves deflated (maybe my knife wasn't sharp enough?) and never returned to their former glory.  Bake for 35 minutes in a 400 F oven and then check for doneness.  It will sound hollow when you knock on the top. If it needs longer, just pop it back in the oven.  It may need up to 50 minutes (mine was done at 35).  Beard advises letting cool for 2-3 hours before cutting into it.  I can't support this. Eat your bread whenever you want.


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