Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bread Baking Day #14: Colored Breads

breadbakingday #14 - colored breads

After I made those first loaves of whole wheat bread for World Bread Day last month, I have been making it just about every weekend since. My goal was to master the technique completely enough that I didn't have to use the recipe. The side benefit was that I had a seemingly endless supply of home-made bread around the apartment, with enough left over that I was able to give away a couple of loaves.

Once I didn't need the recipe, I figured that would free me up to start experimenting with different types of bread. One of my sisters gave me a french bread baking sheet years ago that I've only used once; I'd like to put it back into circulation. Maybe a little sourdough starter hanging out in the fridge. Challah, anyone?

The other thing I figured I could do once I had mastered the general recipe is participate in Bread Baking Day, a monthly event founded by Zorra at 1x umr├╝hren bitte. This month's event is hosted by Boaz at Grainpower. The theme for Bread Baking Day #14 is colored breads.

Given that I've only been making bread for a little over a month, I was somewhat overwhelmed at this month's theme. Because I am committed to using whole wheat whenever possible, it is quite a challenge to find anything that can have a strong enough visual impact to compete with that thick, rich brown color. But I was determined to try.

I also wanted something that would not only impact the color of the bread, but the taste as well. Something that would form an integral part of the dough, rather than just being there to add color. Pistachios have a distinct flavor, and they are a lovely shade of green. I wasn't sure it was a strong enough shade of green to match the whole wheat brown, but I liked the idea enough to give it a try.

I ran out of time to make it before leaving Chicago for my by-now annual Austin Thanksgiving trip, so I decided I would make it there, which made it even more of a challenge - cooking in someone else's kitchen. Luckily, I have spent enough time at my brother's house to know my way around his kitchen.

I had read a recipe for sesame bread that called for a good amount of sesame meal in the dough, so I figured making pistachio meal would be a good start for this bread. I was going to grind the nuts in a coffee grinder, but my sister-in-law pointed me toward her Magic Bullet blender (WARNING: loud video), which enabled me to process them in fewer batches. Before long I had a lovely pile of chartreuse-green pistachio meal. This picture does not really do it justice. It is much more green and almost glowing in real life.

I added the pistachio meal and some chopped pistachios right after I added the salt and oil. I thought it would replace some of the flour, but I ended up using about the same amount as I would have without it. The dough did look noticeably green, but I did not think it would survive the baking process. I hoped there would be some change, though, especially in the taste.

And it didn't take as much as I had hoped. The bread came out a little brighter than my regular whole wheat bread, but most of the green had cooked out. If anything, one might say that it has a touch of yellow.

Here is the pistachio bread next to a slice of my regular whole wheat. You can definitely see a difference, but it's only noticeable when the two are together. I also let the dough rise twice for the pistachio bread as opposed to the one rising I gave the regular bread. I like my bread more dense, but now that I see the two together I think I will start letting my whole wheat bread rise twice in the future.

All in all, not a bad experience. We could not discern any hint of the pistachio when the bread came out of the oven yesterday, but this morning I toasted up a couple of slices for breakfast and I could definitely taste it. It added a slight sweet nuttiness that went well with my scrambled eggs.

As usual, I learned much from this event. I am most pleased that I was able to take a basic bread recipe, fiddle with it, and still come out with a recognizable product. I no longer live in fear of yeast. I can't wait to find out the theme for next month's bread baking day.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes


3-1/2 to 4 cups flour, divided
1-1/2 cups lukewarm water
1 package dry active yeast
1/4 cup honey
1-1/2 cups pistachio meal*
1-2 cup chopped pistachios
2 tsp salt
1/4 cup oil, plus oil for greasing
1 egg (optional)
2 Tbsp milk (optional)

*To make pistachio meal, place raw unsalted shelled pistachios in food processor or grinder and process until coarse meal is formed.

Pour yeast into lukewarm water. Add honey. Add 2 cups of flour, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing briskly after each addition. When all of the flour is incorporated, beat batter 100 strokes. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise for one hour in a dark warm place.

Sprinkle salt and oil over mixture and fold in. Add pistachios and pistachio meal, 1/2 cup at a time, and fold in. Add more flour 1/2 cup (1-1/2 to 2 cups) at a time and fold in until it feels like you can't fold in any more. Turn onto countertop and knead, adding more flour as necessary, until dough is not sticky and develops a smooth shine. Form a ball with the dough.

Pour a little oil into the bowl in which you mixed the dough and spread it around. Place the dough, right side down, in the oil and coat it well. Turn it over so the oiled side is now facing up, cover with a damp towel, put in a dark warm place, and let rise another hour, until doubled in size. Punch it down, cover it again, and let it rise another 50 minutes or so.

Punch it down, turn it onto the counter, and form another ball. Let sit for five minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Grease a bread pan. Knead ball of dough for about six turns. Starting at one end, roll it up to form a loaf shape. Put it in the bread pan top side down. Pinch together the seams and push down on the loaf so it conforms to the pan shape. Turn it over so it's right side up and push it down again. Cover with the damp towel and let it rise again for 20-25 minutes.

Cut two diagonal slices on top of the bread so steam can escape. If desired, mix one egg with 2 tablespoons milk and brush it over the top for a shiny surface. If you have any pistachio meal left over you can sprinkle that over the egg wash.

Bake at 350 deg. F. for one hour. Remove from the pans immediately, then let cool at least an hour before cutting into it. For best results, however, leave overnight.

Adapted from The Tassajara Bread Book, by Edward Espe Brown (Shambhala, 1995)

Exported from Home Cookin 5.7 (

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Cream Cheese Corn with Jalapenos

Happy Thanksgiving to those American readers who find their way here. I hope your table is full of family, friends, and fabulous food.

And if you're desperately looking for a last minute side dish, this is one of those super easy recipes that always disappears fast. It came to our family via my sister-in-law and Thanksgiving would not be same without it. And one of the really nice things about it is that it takes about ten minutes to make and you cook it in the microwave, which keeps the oven free for the turkey, the dressing and the potatoes.

The original recipe calls for a cup of butter but that's just too much saturated fat, even on the one day when you shouldn't have to worry about those kinds of things. I have found that adding a little bit of milk to thin it out makes it just as creamy without adding too many more calories.

Be sure to use the shoepeg corn if you can find it. It makes a difference.

Cream Cheese Corn with Jalapenos

If you're desperately looking for a last minute side ...

See Cream Cheese Corn with Jalapenos on Key Ingredient.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Off to Austin

By the time this post is up, I will be in Austin for Thanksgiving. I've been spending this past week (the week before Thanksgiving) with my brother, who is up from Texas for a quick visit, after which I will ride back to Austin with him to spend Thanksgiving there. We've been eating out most of the time so I haven't been doing any cooking to speak of. My brother mentioned that he didn't bring his camera so I gave him mine, and he has taken some pictures around the neighborhood. That's my corner up there, Broadway and Roscoe in Lakeview East. Wrigley Field is about a mile northwest of here, within easy walking distance.

He's been eating out during the day while I've been at work, mostly at the Melrose diner down the street. It's a staple of the neighborhood, and if the portions have gotten a little smaller over the years (they used to be humongous; now they're just huge), I chalk that up to these economic times. We started going there when my brother''s kids were young and the only things they would eat were bagels, bacon and chocolate milk on their visits. It beat the pants out of Denny's and Baker's Square, the only other kid-friendly options at the time, and there was plenty on the menu for us grownups to sample without getting tired of the same old dishes. Their breakfasts have always been good.

Our dinners have mostly been in the neighborhood, although we did go to Rodity's in Greek Town Thursday night, which was nice. It's not the most cutting edge restaurant there, but the food is well-prepared good quality homestyle fare. The avgolemono was smooth and creamy, with just the right amount of lemon. His combination plate looked good, and less touristy than the one he tried at Greek Islands on a previous visit. I ordered one of the specials - stuffed eggplant papoutsaki (little shoes) - and it was delicious. Half an eggplant, with the pulp mixed with beef in a bechemel sauce and stuffed back inside, is then covered with cheese and baked until golden brown. Not terribly exciting, but it was perfectly seasoned, and a comforting meal on a cold November evening. I could have done without the spaghetti that came with it, but I couldn't even finish the papoutsaki so it was easy to ignore. If I were to order it again, and I would, I'd ask if I could substitute vegetables or a potato.

We're not really touristy, my brother and I, and he's come up to Chicago almost every year since I moved here back in 1990, so we are not doing much sightseeing. I've been working days since he arrived - Saturday is my first day off and we are leaving early Sunday morning to drive down to Texas. I will post from there.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Egg and Pita Chip Scramble

This falls into that "I have half a bag of pita chips and no hummus so what do I do with them" situation with which I know you are all familiar. This was last Saturday morning. I was also faced with "I need breakfast and I have eggs but I don't know what I want to do with them."

So I decided to put the two together. Kind of like middle eastern style Tex-Mex migas. In the most basic way possible. Migas usually contain onions, chilies, tomatoes and cheese in addition to the tortilla strips. Here, I only had pita chips.

What made this dish interesting for me is that it brought back a method of scrambling eggs that I used frequently in the past but had all but forgotten about. Lately, I have been breaking the eggs into a mixing bowl, seasoning them and adding whatever other herbs or spices I am using along with a splash of cold water, beating them, and pouring them into melted butter in a skillet placed over a medium low heat and letting them cook relatively slowly. It's the same technique I use for omelettes.

Several years ago I went through a period of laziness with my scrambled eggs. Instead of breaking them into a bowl first and mixing them up, I would just break them into the skillet over a higher heat, let them fry until the whites were just set, and then break up the yolks and scramble it all together in the skillet.

It gives the eggs a completely different texture and consistency when you cook them this way. Instead of the yolk and the whites blending together, you definitely can taste and feel the difference between the two, and it somehow tastes more eggy to me.

Once I decided I was going to put the pita chips in with the egg, I didn't really think about how I was going to cook them. And even though I haven't made scrambled eggs this way in years, I just started the butter melting in the skillet and brought the eggs over to the stove. I cracked them in and then sprinkled the pita chips on top, crushing them in my palm as I did so. I only added a little bit of salt (the chips were salty) and pepper to taste. I left the chips on top of the eggs while the whites set, and then stirred the whole thing together.

Eggs continue cooking when you take them off the heat, so I turned the burner off when it looked like they still had about a minute to go. By the time I slid them onto my plate, they were cooked just the way I like them.

This was an incredibly good makeshift breakfast. Add some other ingredients and it could be an outstanding planned event.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Shredded Pork with Pumpkin and Potatoes

En fin, I present the end result of my shredded pork and pumpkin endeavors. And if I do say so myself, this project has exceeded my expectations every step of the way. The shredded pork was moist, tender, and flavorful all by itself; the pumpkin was easy to prepare, and even the pumpkin seeds worked out. I am calling this a stew, even though I didn't really cook it the way I would cook a stew. It took many hours (but little work - most of the time is stove-top cooking time) to make the pork, and about 45 minutes to make the rest of the dish, which I did the following day.

I chose the perfect size pumpkin - about three times the size of an acorn squash. It yielded approximately 4 cups. I used one each of three different kinds of potatoes I found at the green city market - yukon, purple, and some red one that had a red streak running throughout, which also yielded about 4 cups, so the two complemented each other perfectly and neither one overpowered.

In the picture above you can easily distinguish between the two (there's one of each right at bottom center), but after a night in the refrigerator they absorbed more of the spice-darkened liquid and looked more alike, so it was harder to tell them apart. It made for a lovely surprise with each mouthful - I either got a smooth, dense texture with the potato or a light, fresh burst of pumpkin. Both were delicious and it gave the stew a depth of flavor and texture that kept it interesting from the first bite to the last.

And like most stews, it got better every day as all of the flavors continued to blend together. It was the perfect dish to take to work for lunch. I was disappointed when I hit the bottom of the container. I hope the pumpkins are still around when I get back from Texas after Thanksgiving so I can make it again this season.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes


2 lbs. braised shredded pork (recipe here) with braising liquids
3 medium size yukon gold or red potatoes, cubed
1 small pumpkin (not a pie pumpkin), seeded, peeled and cubed
2 14.5-oz. cans hominy, drained and rinsed
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp cumin
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat braising liquid over medium high heat until boiling. Add oregano, cumin, salt, pepper and potatoes. Lower heat and simmer for ten minutes.

Add pumpkin and cook for 15-20 more minutes, until potatoes and pumpkin are tender and you can easily stick a knife inside them.

Add pork and hominy and heat through. Serve immediately.

Created 10/25/08

Exported from Home Cookin 5.7 (

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Delicata Squash

The week before last the Green Market moved to their winter location at the north-east corner of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. I had only gone once in the few weeks prior, and I have never been to the market past October, so I was curious to see what was there and so off I went.

Onions, turnips, carrots, peppers, greens, still some tomatoes, and squash. Lots of squash, in fact. Many different kinds of squash. I had already experimented with Carnival squash and my pumpkin, and I had no specific intent to buy any squash, but there were so many colorful varieties in every size and shape imaginable that I had to bring some home with me.

The lucky winner was an heirloom variety called Delicata. These were about 4 inches wide and 7 inches long. They looked like they would be relatively easy to cut (something I am learning to pay attention to when I am considering bringing squash home with me - I almost broke my knife on the carnival squash because I was so afraid it would slip and slice my hand open), and with a name like Delicata they were sure to be sweet and tasty, right?

They weren't too hard to cut open. I sliced them in half lengthwise so I could get at the seeds. They weren't too hard to get out. After my recent success with the pumpkin seeds I decided I would take a stab at roasting these seeds as well. They were more round and slightly thicker than the pepitas. Mary told me her family used to soak their seeds in salt water overnight before roasting them. This made a lot of sense to me so I soaked the seeds, then let them dry for most of the next day, and roasted them in the evening. They were delicious. I will never throw another squash seed away.
I placed the squash, cut side down, on a foil-lined cookie tray (one with a lip), and roasted it in a 350 deg. F. oven for 30-40 minutes, until it gave easily when I poked it with my finger (carefully, so as not to burn my finger).

Most recipes for squash call for butter and brown sugar, or some form of fat and sugar, but after taking a little taste when it came out of the oven I decided it didn't need anything. These little squashes live up their name - they are soft and delicate and super sweet all on their own. I only put the onions and garlic I had roasted under the chicken because they were there, and I ended up kind of eating them out of the squash and then eating the squash by itself.

And not only are they sweet and delicate, they are dense and creamy. My favorite so far.

If you are nervous about cooking squash, let me tell you nothing can be easier. The method I've described above can be used for just about any kind: split it, take out the seeds, lay it cut side down, and bake until it's soft. Afterwords you can eat it as is out of the skin or peel it and mash it with a little oil/butter and seasonings.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Braised Shredded Pork

I have not been one to braise in the kitchen. I've never fully trusted that the meat will have any flavor, or that it will be tender. Not having cooked that much meat, I have rarely been one to step too far away from the few techniques with which I'm familiar. Baked or boiled chicken, broiled lamb chops, salmon or steaks, and ground meat casseroles are the dishes that give me no fear. In recent months I've ventured further outside my comfort zone with beer (and wine) braised pork chops and skillet-seared skirt steak, so I am ready to expand my cooking vocabulary even more.

Once I decided I wanted to make a pork and pumpkin stew, I had to decide how I wanted to cook the pork, and what cut I needed to get the desired result. Off I went to the Apple Market. I told the butcher what I wanted to do, and he not only suggested the pork shoulder butt; he offered suggestions as to how I should season it and cook it. When I told him I was going to make a pork and pumpkin stew and wanted it to have more of a Mexican style, he altered his suggestions to suit that theme.

I have said it before and I will say it again: If you want top quality meat and great advice on how to prepare it, find a butcher and go there often. I owe most of my recent successes to my butcher. Not only do they know their meat cuts, they know the best way to prepare them and they are more than happy to share what they know. I felt confident that I had the right cut of meat for the dish I wanted to make.

So home I went with my shoulder butt. Not being familiar with braising, I looked through a few recipes to learn the basic technique. Knowing that I was going to use pork and pumpkin, I thought a mole-style braising sauce would work well so I had an idea of the spices I wanted to use; I just needed to know what to do with them.

This was so fantastically successful that I can't wait to do more braising. I think short ribs will be next.

Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

2 lb pork shoulder butt, bone in, cut in half if necessary to fit into pan in one layer
1 Tbsp medium hot chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp crushed guajillo pepper
olive oil
1 Tbsp canola oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp oregano
1 Tbsp chili powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth

Combine chili powder, cumin, guajillo pepper, salt and pepper in small bowl. Pour small amount of olive oil on both sides of the pork, then sprinkle the spices on and rub them in, being sure the spices cover all sides of the pork.

Heat canola oil in heavy pot or dutch oven that has a tight-fitting lid over high heat until pan is smoking hot. Carefully place pork in pan and brown all over, including sides. Remove from the pan, put on a plate and set aside.

Add oil if necessary, lower heat to medium high and add onions and garlic. Saute for another 3 minutes or so until onions and garlic are translucent. Add oregano, chili powder, salt and pepper and cook for another minute to release the oils in the spices.

Add broth and bring to a boil. Lay pork back into the pot, being sure to include any juices that gathered on the plate. Lower heat as low as it will go. Cover and cook for around four hours, checking regularly, until meat is tender enough to flake with a fork.

Remove from heat and let sit for 15 minutes. Using two forks, shred all of the meat.

Can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator. Reserve liquid to serve with pork or to use later.

Created 10/26/08

Exported from Home Cookin 5.7 (

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Quick Trick for Getting Pomegranate Seeds out of the Pomegranate

Fall is the time for pomegranates. When I was younger, living in Houston, we spent a lot of time at the house of my parents' best friends. One of their neighbors, I think they lived next door to the people directly behind them, had a pomegranate tree. I have one memory of tackling one - it was not very sweet and it was an awful lot of work to get the seeds out.

That one time was pretty much it for me. It was more trouble than it was worth, other than on those rare occasions when they garnished my entree at an up-scale middle eastern restaurant.

As I started to expand my cooking repertoire, I began using it more, mostly in the form of a pomegranate molasses I created myself by reducing the hell out of a bottle of 100% pomegranate juice. It's a crucial component in Muhammara, of which I have become quite fond.

So of course I started thinking about getting my hands on another one to see how I would respond to the taste today. And since they're all over the stores right now it was too easy to throw one into my basket. Which I did last Saturday. Completely on impulse. With no real idea what I was going to do with it, unless it was to watch it get more wrinkly every day until I finally give up and throw it away (like I did the last time I had the urge to buy one about four years ago).

And then Sunday morning I was on the phone with my sister having our usual weekly food conversation, when from out of the blue (I swear) she confessed to an urge to buy a pomegranate. She laughed when I told her I had actually succumbed to the impulse just the day before, but she had no better ideas than I did what to do with it.

In the years since I last bought a pomegranate, I had heard something about how easy it is to get the seeds out if you fill a bowl with water and separate the seeds from the pulp in the bowl. The seeds settle down to the bottom of the bowl and the pulp floats. I tried it out, and I am happy to say that works. The seeds do settle down at the bottom of the bowl, and the pulp does float there on top and is very easy to remove.

And here are the seeds. They really do look like little gems, don't they? I have been using them to garnish just about everything. They are especially good in salads.

And someday soon I am sure I will get ambitious enough to make my own grenadine or pomegranate molasses with them.

Fill a large bowl about halfway with cold water. Cut the ends off of a pomegranate and, using a paring knife, score the skin lengthwise, making each slice about 1-1/2 to 2 inches apart.

Put the scored pomegranate into the water and let it soak for five minutes. Break the pomegranate apart into segments, using the scored areas as your guide. With the segment underwater and using your fingers, scrape the seeds away from the pulp.

Remove the pulp from the top of the water, then strain the seeds.

And that's it. Nothing could be simpler, and they brighten up just about every dish.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Shepherds' Pie

Ever since last spring I have been dreaming about shepherds' pie. Although my mother made it one or two times that I can remember in my childhood, it holds no special nostalgic importance to me. I didn't order it in any of the pubs we visited in England (although I did sample quite a few beef pasties - yum!). I can't for the life of me think what put it into my head, but once it was there it would not go away.

I found it on the menu at retro-nostalgic Silver Cloud last April when Lynda and I met there for dinner, and since that was about the time I had started to think about it, I ordered it. It was all right (although Lynda's meatloaf in Bell's Amber Ale Gravy was much much better), but it was a little too deconstructed to satisfy my craving. Instead of being spread over the meat mixture and browned, the garlic mashed potatoes were just scooped on top, and the meat mixture was a touch overseasoned.

So all that really accomplished was to make me want the real thing even more. But alas, summer was coming, and it got too hot to even consider cooking something so heavy, let alone eating it. So I decided to wait.

Almost every week, though, I would think about it, wondering if there were any chance it was cool enough. Of course it never was, even if we did have a milder-than-usual summer this year. I knew the time would come, though, so I waited.

And then finally, a couple of weeks ago, the temperature did drop enough that the thought of having the stove on for a couple of hours seemed like a good thing, and I had the potatoes, ground beef, and carrots already at hand. I got to work and came up with a meal that satisfied my craving. At least for a while.

A true British shepherds' pie uses lamb; apparently if you use beef then you should call it a cottage pie. I used beef, but here in the states you can use beef or lamb interchangeably and still call it shepherds' pie.

The one thing I would do differently next time is that I would make the mashed potato layer thinner. I had a lot of potatoes mashed up, so I used as much as I could, going all the way up to the top of the pan. I did leave the skins on and I would do that again next time (they're yukon golds so the skins aren't that thick), but the potatoes were so thick they did not brown properly. It tasted good, but they didn't crust over like they should have. Some recipes call for cheese on top but I left that off. It seemed rich enough without it, to me.

Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

2 Tbsp canola oil
1 lb ground chuck or lamb
1 medium onion, chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
2 large carrots, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
2 Tbsp flour
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp marjoram
salt and pepper to taste

3 medium Yukon gold potatoes
2 Tbsp butter, melted
1/2 cup cream, heated
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
salt and pepper to taste

Place potatoes in medium saucepan in enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil. Add salt, lower heat, cover and cook for about 20 minutes, until a knife goes in and pulls out of one easily. Drain water out of the pan and put the dried potatoes back on the burner. (If you want them peeled, do that before you put them back in the pan over the burner.)

Add the melted butter and heated cream and mash the potatoes. Add salt and pepper to taste. If they are too dry, add broth as needed. Set aside. (These can be made a day ahead.)

Heat oil over medium-high heat in skillet. Add beef and brown for 5-10 minutes. Add onion and garlic and cook until translucent, about 5 more minutes. Add carrots and celery and cook until softened, about 10 more minutes.

Add 2 tablespoons of flour and make sure to mix it in well. Let cook for at least two more minutes to cook out the flour taste. Add the broth, thyme, marjoram, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer 20-25 minutes, until thickened.


Pre-heat oven to 350 deg. F. Pour the meat mixture into a greased baking dish. Cover the mixture with potatoes, bringing mashed potatoes all the way to the edges of the dish so that the meat mixture is entirely covered.

Bake in oven for 30-35 minutes, until the potatoes are browned. Let sit for fifteen minutes, then serve.

October 2008

Exported from Home Cookin 5.6 (
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