Sweets to the …

… well, ME.

A change up from the endless bread posts.

I tried out a recipe for red velvet cake for the first time by making a half batch and baking cupcakes. Next time … do NOT double the cocoa cause the liquid red food colouring ended up sort of garnet instead of the ‘red’ that the person who posted/rec’d the recipe had. Since the cupcakes went into the freezer, I didn’t make a frosting but the cream cheese/butter combo is probably warranted.

And I made a batch of date oatmeal turnovers using a tried and true recipe. I made a few changes to switch things up like NOT pulsing the oatmeal flakes a bit in the food processor, which was a mistake. There’s a bit too much texture/roughage for my taste. And, I decided to try the egg glaze to see if I liked the shiny look … meh!! (I don’t think the look is worth using up a perfectly good egg especially as I ended up throwing away the rest.) For serving, I’d make up an icing sugar/butter glaze and drizzle it over the turnovers.

A few other things I’ve made include a batch of Nutella panna cotta

ETA (04/12/2017): I decided to add the recipe in case anyone is interested.

Nutella Panna Cotta – makes ~1 3/4 cups, serves 4-6

1 cup/250ml whipping cream (**1/2 cup 2% milk and 1/2 cup whipping cream)
25g/2 tbsp sugar (**reduce to 1 tbsp next time)
1 tsp gelatine (**used 1 1/2 tsp)
1 1/2 tbsp cold water
1/2 cup Nutella
**pinch of salt (optional)

** Adjustments made

In a small bowl, add the gelatine and sprinkle the water over the top. Allow to bloom.

Scald the cream in a saucepan on the stove, or in a microwave safe bowl, and stir (or whisk) in the sugar and salt. Add a bit of the warmed cream to the gelatine mixture and stir until the gelatine is dissolved. Stir the Nutella into the warm cream until it’s thoroughly dissolved. Add the gelatine mixture and stir. Pour the mixture through a sieve into a measuring cup. Portion the panna cotta mixture evenly into 4-6 containers.

Let set in the fridge for at least 2 hrs. Four is preferable if you can wait that long. There’s no need to turn out the panna cotta. Eating it out of a pretty glass or other serving dish is fine.

.. and a quick sundae with the last of the French vanilla ice cream in my freezer and some sea salt caramel sauce.

Fruit/Herb “Shrubs” or Drinking Vinegar … Blueberry-Ginger Shrub

If you buy flavoured sparkling water or those flavour crystal packets, this alternative is cheaper and probably healthier.

“Shrubs” are fruit and/or herb and spice sugar syrups with a vinegar base. A simple 1:1:1 ratio of the fruit, sugar and vinegar is used. In the ‘cold method’ the cleaned and diced fruit is macerated with sugar, strained and then the syrup is mixed with the vinegar. In the ‘hot method’, vinegar is brought just to or under the boiling point, before it’s poured over the fruit and allowed to macerate overnight or up to several days. Then, the fruit is strained and the liquid is mixed with sugar. In both cases, the resulting liquid is stored in sterilized bottles under refrigeration.

I used an alternative to the cold method which I found posted here.

Blueberry-Ginger Shrub

1 cup blueberries (any berry may be used though cherries, peaches, plums and pears are good too)
3/4 – 1 cup white sugar (you may choose to use the lower quantity of sugar)
1 cup unfiltered apple cider vinegar**
1 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, grated

In a large jar, combine blueberries and sugar and macerate with a muddler or the handle of a wooden spoon. Pour the vinegar over fruit and grate the ginger on top. Stir, cover with a lid and place into the fridge for 2-3 days until all sugar is dissolved.

Sieve the liquid through a fine mesh sieve, cheesecloth or coffee filter. (Don’t discard the spent fruit. It can be served over drained yogurt or added to smoothies or muffins.)

Place the sieved liquid into a fresh, sterilized jar and return to the fridge.

To serve, mix 1  tablespoon of the shrub syrup into a glass of still or sparkling water. Taste and add more syrup, if desired. Shrub syrups may also be used as cocktail mixers, in salad dressings, and more.

** According to on line sources (uncredited):  Any vinegar may be used, as long as it is labeled as having at least 5 % acidity. Distilled white vinegar has a clear, sharp flavour but may be too acrid for most people’s tastes; apple cider vinegar tends to be milder with a fruity flavour; and wine/champagne vinegars, while more expensive, often provide a superior smooth flavor. Balsamic vinegar is delicious with cherries and strawberries.

Honey Whole Wheat – Trio of Experiments

An early pair of experiments in which I transformed a yeast mini loaf recipe into one with JUST sourdough was a success so I repeated it here, in reverse, starting with yeast and sourdough (SD) starter and gradually reducing the amount of yeast used. I baked the bread in an actual loaf pan … something I rarely do … just because I’m bored and this will at least make me feel like I did SOMETHING productive. The bread was pretty good too, though next time, I’m only going to use whole wheat in the starter, as I’m not very fond of the taste in the finished loaf.

Nice bubbly starter fed with all purpose and whole wheat results in a ‘poofy’ dough after bulk proofing. Don’t you just love the technical jargon of bread baking?

Experiment 1 – 2 tsp of dry yeast and <1 cup of SD starter, mostly all purpose (AP) flour but with some whole wheat (WW), 2 lbs of dough all baked in one 9×5″ loaf pan, at 375 deg F.

I learned not to trust internet sources too much as 2 lbs of dough were obviously too much for the 9 by 5 inch bread pan and I ended up with a mushroom topped shape. Over proofing probably didn’t help. Oh, and the cracks in the crust? I dropped the pan as I was transferring it to the cooling rack. (sigh)

Experiment 2 – 1 tsp of dry yeast and <1 cup of SD starter, as above, 1 1/2 lbs of dough baked in loaf pan and the other 1/2 lbs of dough were baked in a smaller disposable aluminum foil pan. The resulting mini loaf was quickly sliced and devoured … for quality assurance, you understand.

Using only 1 1/2 lbs of dough in my pan gave me a much nicer final loaf shape after baking. I proofed the loaf a bit longer as I had reduced the yeast to 1 tsp, rather than 2 tsp, while still keeping the same amount of starter.

Experiment 3NO YEAST, only <1 cup SD starter, as above, 1 1/2 lb of dough baked in loaf pan, rest of the dough (>1/2 lbs) shaped into crescent rolls. I used 1 cup of  WW flour to ~ 2 1/4 cups of AP flour in this final trial.

Shaping the crescent rolls – > 1/2 lbs dough rolled out into an 8 x 14 inch rectangle. Triangles had a base of 7 inches resulting in 3 perfect triangles and a 4th triangle pieced together out of the two end halves.

PS: Gave away the loaves from Experiment 2 and 3, as well as the 3 crescent rolls, so I only have the brioche buns I made a while back and some of the bread from Experiment 1 left in the freezer.

I may write up the recipe of a basic version of this loaf but it’s pretty repetitive of previous ones I’ve posted.

Weekend Cooking Plans …

… I actually have NO cooking plans for this weekend.

I slept in (it was wonderful) and woke to a gray, damp, miserable morning. The sun decided not to show up and after some more rain, I decided not to go grocery shopping after all. Tomorrow, I’ll have to go, but NOT today. I even passed up an anticipated trip to the city market cause I lost my enthusiasm for the outing.

With Easter three short weeks away, I’ve been thinking of making a batch of hot cross buns for Good Friday. Last year was my first attempt at a recipe which turned out just ok. I had higher expectations than something that was no better tasting than I’ve brought home from the local bakery. (Some things they make, just don’t impress me much like their overpriced and underwhelming fruit cakes. And who buys pound cakes at a bakery?)

I’ve asked for recommendations on FB for a good hot cross bun recipe, hoping for examples that people have made themselves and were proud of but, unfortunately, links to google recipes with no personal anecdotes is what was shared. It was disappointing.

For a foodie with a LJ/blog, seasonal/holiday inspiration is welcome especially when falling into the rut of trying to post something new on a regular basis. Depending on how I feel, I may or may not end up making the hot cross buns after all.

My sole cooking (not that I actually cooked anything) in the last few days was putting together a “shrub”. It has nothing to do with shrubbery but I’ll share the results after I go grocery shopping so I can do a proper presentation.

And so you’re not left without something pretty to look at, here’s a picture of a home made cream puff from the freezer, filled with ice cream and topped with some home made salted caramel sauce.

Sourdough French Baguettes, Naan and Popovers

I know … you’re probably thinking I should rename this LJ/blog “The Sourdough Fanatic” with all the sourdough baking I’ve been doing. It’s addictive even though, as I’ve said before, I don’t actually like sourdough bread that much. At least not the ‘artisanal’ high hydration doughs with the big holes. However, feeding that jar of starter on the top of my fridge and watching it double in a couple of hours, and then triple, before finally collapsing as the gas produced stretches the gluten strands past their limit is something that must be experienced.

And I really liked the sourdough tortillas I made so, when I ran out, I had to make more on which to serve the chicken fajitas from a recent purchase of boneless, skinless breasts.

And, let’s be honest. Baking bread is cheap.

Even if it’s not the greatest bread in the world, you can turn it into croutons or bread crumbs, or dressing as I did with some of the jalapeno-old cheddar cheese sourdough I baked recently. Not that it wasn’t good, I just needed some bread to go into the giblet and rice dressing I made to serve with my roast turkey.

Did I post a picture?

No?

Well, just one of the outside of the loaf.

I tried making French baguettes out of Carole L’s no knead sourdough using the shaping technique I used in my previous attempt at sourdough French baguettes. They tasted great and the crunchy, chewy crust and toothsome interior can’t be beat fresh out of the oven. But they don’t hold up. By the second day, the crust has softened and the interior is dense. You can warm it up in the oven and it’s edible, but no where close to its previous state. Still, it was an interesting experiment. And I had fun practicing my slashing technique.

I also used some of my sourdough starter to make Indian naan or flatbread. The first batch was plain but I fancied up the second batch by adding dried fenugreek leaves (methi) and powdered garlic. A bit of melted butter on the warm naan and it’s a wonderful snack or vehicle with which to pick up and eat a saucy curry dish.

And, before I dried the last of the sourdough starter I had revived this time, I used the King Arthur recipe for a quick batch of eggy sourdough popovers. Whether you serve them with a roast beef dinner or enjoy them with honey and a cup of coffee for breakfast, it’s a great way to use up some of that sourdough starter.

Well, that should satisfy my craving to nurture sourdough for a while

How to Eat Out on a Budget

The answer is .. you don’t.

At least, if I do, it’s very rare these days.

Dim sum, sushi and Red Lobster are my only dining out treats, but even they are quite rare … a few times a year.

Let’s do the math of dining out in comparison to cooking at home.

The last time I went out for AYCE sushi, I spent $17 and change. And that didn’t include a $3 tip.

In comparison, I spent $10 ($14 regular price with a 30% discount 30%) on a smoked picnic shoulder ham, and another $7 for a package of 4 fresh, skinless, bone in chicken breasts. Sometimes you can find boneless chicken breasts on deep discount.

After boiling the ham, I ended up with 18 cups of broth. I used half of the broth to make 11 cups/servings of ham and bean soup. I used 2 cups of diced cooked ham in the soup and still had enough ham left over for eight generous servings for other meals.

As to the chicken breasts, which were big enough to serve two people each if just simply breaded and baked, the possible usages are plentiful. Another option is turning the meat into breaded cutlets or chicken fillets.

Admittedly, chicken and pork are the most inexpensive proteins available … $2 – 2.50 a pound. Fish and seafood are a lot pricier. And a premium steak. The savings of cooking at home aren’t as obvious, but it’s still cheaper than dining out … two meals in for the price of one meal in a restaurant.

Every time I get tempted to dine out, I do the math.

Although, being frugal in my grocery shopping means that I CAN afford to treat myself occasionally.

What’s your favourite dining out treat? Do you eat out as much as you used to 5 yrs ago, 10?

ETA: I spent $18 on this name brand (Butterball) turkey bought frozen for $1.49 a pound. Lots of breast meat, thighs turned into a spicy Indian curry dish, roasted wings and drumsticks, turkey and rice soup, giblet and rice dressing, delicious gravy and the carcass will end up in a big pot turkey stock.

Visual Guide to Baking Carole L’s No Knead SD Bread

This easy no knead, sourdough bread recipe was shared by Carole L on FB. I took a number of pictures at different stages during the bake as a visual reminder of what one would expect when making it.

Dough 1 – just mixed                            Dough 1 – 6 hrs later, room temp (70 deg F)

Dough 1 – 15 hrs later                        Dough 2 – mixed, shaped and put in bowl  to rise

Dough 2 – after 2 hrs of proofing           Dough 2 – turned out onto parchment paper
at room temp

Slashed and ready to bake                     Baked

Loaf cut in half to see the crumb

Chocolate Hazelnut Crackles (N is for Nutella Cookies)

This post combines two of my favourites, reading mysteries and baking. And chocolate. (But that’s pretty low down on my list of faves, to be honest.)

I’ve read almost all of the Joanne Fluke mysteries but can’t remember trying out any of the recipes she includes in each novel until I finished “Blackberry Pie Murder” late last night. One of the cookie recipes featured Nutella, and since I have most of a jar of the hazelnut chocolate spread in my pantry, I thought I’d give it a try. I just made half the recipe (2 1/2 – 3 dozen cookies) as I didn’t want to use up most of my unsalted butter.

The cookies were very good freshly baked, though I think they were even better a few hours later as the flavour developed/ripened. They’re not overly sweet so I liked them better than many sweeter cookies I’ve tried. I baked for the shorter time suggested as I wanted a chewy rather than a crunchy result. If you don’t want to just eat them plain with a cup of cold milk, turn them into ice cream sandwiches. If you want a fancier presentation, press a small hazelnut on top of the cookie ball before baking.

If you don’t think you can get a hold of the book from your library, you can find the recipe on line at “The Sugared Teacup” blog. (Sorry, the direct link is no longer valid.) below.

Chocolate Hazelnut Crackles (Nutella Cookies) – makes 5 to 6 dozen cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup Nutella
2 large eggs, well beaten
3 cups all-purpose flour

Melt the butter (in a saucepan or microwave) and pour into a large mixing bowl. Add the brown sugar and vanilla. Beat well until the sugar is mixed in well. Add the baking soda, baking powder, and salt and stir.

Add the Nutella and stir in until smooth and then add the beaten eggs and stir.

Add the flour and continue mixing until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Form the dough into walnut-sized (~1 tbsp) balls and place them on a greased (or parchment paper lined) cookie sheet, 12 to a half sheet. (If the dough is too sticky to form into balls, chill it for a half hour or so).

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes. The balls will flatten out all by themselves. (Note: For more chewy cookies, bake at the lesser time.)

Cool the cookies on the cookie sheet for 2 minutes and then remove them to a wire rack with a thin metal spatula to finish cooling.

*****

Recipe from Joanne Fluke’s Blackberry Pie Murder. New York: Kensington Publishing Corporation, 2014.

French Baguettes 2 Ways

ETA: The 2nd version, with sourdough, would be considered the ‘best’ of the bunch. I like the first version.

I’ve made ‘baguettes’ before using regular bread dough, and even sourdough, but the attempts didn’t really conform to the traditional recipe (no sugar, just yeast or starter, flour, water and salt) and shaping of the real thing. I wanted to join a recent sourdough French baguette event on a FB group I belong to but didn’t have any active starter as it’s been either frozen or dried.

An attempt to thaw and build up some of my first sourdough starter from the freezer was a failure as I rushed things and overfed the small amount of live yeast in the frozen starter. I ended up adding some of the failed starter to a regular yeast bread recipe because I didn’t want to waste the flour. I even made a “lame” with a razor blade (package of 5 for $4) and a bamboo skewer so I could I could do proper slashes. I rehydrated some dried starter for the second try.

Lame

Comparison between the two baguette trials … the baguette on the left of the picture (yeast one) was pulled from the freezer so it looks a bit shriveled.

French baguette Trial #1 – yeast (plus failed starter from the freezer so as not to waste the flour). I used Kat’s French bread recipe from FB as a base but omitted the Vital wheat gluten.

 

The slashes opened up during baking but the placement was a bit off.

French baguette Trail #2 – sourdough using the recipe here and referring to the YouTube video for shaping

Crumb of the yeast (left) and the sourdough (right) baguettes

  

Quick Update

Wow, it’s been more than three weeks since I last posted. I haven’t been busy in RL, it’s just that there’s nothing post-worthy going on in my kitchen as I’m mostly eating out of the freezer. And how many bread recipes does anyone need to see? I bought a package of razor blades and made my own lame cause you need those nice slashes on French baguettes, whether you make them with yeast or sourdough (SD). Took lots of pictures but don’t have a lot of inspiration to post them.

Today, I made SD naan.

A couple of weeks ago I boiled up a smoked picnic shoulder ham, cooked up some navy beans and made a big pot of ham and bean soup. And fried up some of the ham, and eggs, for some pretty tasty brunches and brinners.

PS: Forgot that I also made creamy chicken, broccoli and mushroom pasta and chicken fajitas with home made SD flour tortillas. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts were on sale.

I really can’t think of anything else … later.