Sunday, April 26, 2015

No-Knead Artisan Bread


No-Knead Artisan Bread

If you are a loyal Grey's Anatomy follower like me, you must have been grieving after the last episode. I think all of us fans were screaming a collective, "SAY IT ISN'T SO!" How could they kill off McDreamy? Whose McDreamy eyes am I supposed to look at now that he is gone? (I really hope my husband isn't reading this post!) Fortunately, I love all the characters and the writing, so I'll continue to watch...but under protest.

I had to drown my sorrow in some food. Luckily, there were some freshly baked bread in the house. I mourned Dr. Derek Sheperd's death with a couple slices of this beautiful, home-made, crusty artisan bread. It almost made me forget about the Mcfreaking untimely demise...almost.


No-Knead Artisan Bread



I enjoy making yeast bread, especially fuss-free ones. This recipe is a combination of Mel's Kitchen Cafe  and my own twist. When I find a yeast bread recipe that is no-knead, has few ingredients, and looks great, I'm on it. From the very first batch, I had great results with a hard crust and springy, tender interior. I have tried some no-knead recipes before that resulted in a leaden bread, but not this one. This one is perfect!


No-Knead Artisan Bread



There are no electrical gadgets needed to make this artisan bread, just bowls and a wooden spoon. I start by combining warm water and yeast in a large mixing bowl and set them aside for 5 minutes to allow the yeast to bloom. The original recipe combined water, yeast, flour, and salt all at once. My method extends the prep time a few minutes, but I think it is worth the investment. It allows me to immediately see if my yeast is still alive and active, especially if I am using ones that have been sitting around a while. When all of the ingredients are combined at once, the only way to tell that the yeast is no good is if the dough does not proof. If it does not, it is back to square one because flat, unrisen bread dough make frisbees.

The next step is to add the flour and salt to the yeast mixture. I recommend adding a half cup shy of the total. Stir to blend, adding enough of the remaining flour, if needed, until the desired dough consistency is achieved. I made this recipe twice. The first time, I had to add a little extra water because I used the entire flour amount right off the bat. The resulting dough was too dry. The second time, my dough was too wet, even after using the full amount of flour. I had to add more flour to firm up the dough. In either case, the desired end consistency should be wet and sticky, yet stretches when pulled. 


No-Knead Artisan Bread



Once mixed the dough is allowed to rest in a warm spot for at least 2 and up to 5 hours. The longer the dough is allowed to proof, the better the flavor. After this first rise, the dough is shaped and allowed to rest for 40 additional minutes. At this point, it is slashed on top, dusted with flour. The loaf is then baked on a parchment paper lined baking stone or sheet pan over a steaming tray. When the bread comes out of the oven it looks like this!  Yum!

No-Knead Artisan Bread



I am not really a masterful bread baker, but this is the result I get using this recipe. The picture above was my second batch. How good does that look? Makes you want to run into the kitchen and whip up a batch doesn't it? Go right now! And have fun!



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No-Knead Artisan Bread:
Adapted slightly from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

3 cups warm water 
1 1/2 tbsp. active dry yeast
1 1/3 leveled tbsp. salt
6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

In a large mixing bowl, add water and stir in yeast. Allow yeast to bloom for 5 minutes. Yeast mixture should be foamy and bubbly. In a separate bowl, combine flour and salt. Stir to blend. Add flour mixture (minus 1/2 cup) to the yeast mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon to incorporate. The dough consistency desired should be sticky but stretches when pulled. If dough is too wet, add flour, a couple tablespoons at a time. If dough is at too dry, add water, 1 tablespoon at a time. 


yeast blooming in a bowl
yeast blooming 

stretchy bread dough
bread dough should be sticky, smooth, and
stretches when pulled



proofed bread dough in a bowl
proofed bread dough


Scrape dough off sides of the bowl. Grease the underside of a large plastic wrap. Cover bowl with wrap and cut several slits for circulation. Place in a warm area and allow to proof or rise for at least 2 and up to 5 hours. The dough should at least doubled in size and be sticky and elastic. At this point it could be baked right away or refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. 

To bake right away, prep oven. Place a broiler pan on the bottom rack of the oven. If using a baking stone, place on rack positioned in the middle of the oven. Preheat oven at 450 F. Preheat stone at that temperature for at least 20 minutes prior to baking. If using a baking sheet, place it (inverted) on the middle rack 10 minutes prior to baking.

Place a sheet of parchment paper on an inverted baking sheet (rim side down). Using well-floured hands, divide dough into two equal halves. Working with one of the halves at a time, place dough onto a well-floured work surface. Shape the dough into a loaf, stretching surface slightly, with the seam side down. Add more flour, if needed, to hands and work surface if dough sticks. Place loaf on top of the parchment paper. Allow dough to rest, uncovered or lightly covered, for 40 minutes. After resting, dust surface with flour and make 3 to 4 large horizontal slashes on top. Picking up the entire inverted baking sheet, slide parchment paper and dough onto the baking stone or baking sheet. Pour 1 cup of hot water into the broiler pan and immediately close the oven door. Bake until bread is crusty and well browned, about  26-30 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack. Makes 2 loaves.


Note: Refrigerated dough need rest at room temp for 1 1/2 hour for the second rise.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Apricot Thyme Glazed Bacon Sticks

Apricot Thyme Glazed Bacon Sticks

We are bacon lovers in my house. If I want the gang to come running, all I have to say is BACCCON! And they come running faster if it's glazed bacon sticks. There is no such thing as left overs when it comes to these crispy, salty, sweet, and herbaceous bites of goodness. They are sticky and finger-licking good!              

Only three ingredients are required in the making of these tasty strips of pork: bacon, apricot preserves, and dried thyme. Apricot preserves provide fruitiness and sweetness while dried thyme imparts an aromatic and woodsy element. The contrasting profiles work together well. These bacon sticks are great as an appetizer or snack, but they are equally suitable for breakfast and brunch...or lunch...or dinner...or midnight snack. Essentially, what I am trying to say is they are perfect anytime you have a hankering for something delicious!


Apricot Thyme Glazed Bacon Sticks



I made the bacon strips two ways, with one method yielding better results than the other. In the first method, the bacon is placed directly on a baking tray whereas the second method places them on a wire tray to allow all of the fat and liquid to drip. By far, I prefer the first version simply because the bacon is more flavorful. When baked on a wire rack, the apricot preserves, along with the fat and thyme, drip to the bottom of the baking tray. The bacon, consequently, do not absorb all of the flavor. 


Apricot Thyme Glazed Bacon Sticks



I use thick cut bacon for this recipe and bake it at 375 degrees F for about 30 minutes, turning over once during cooking.  If using a regular cut, reduce the cooking time slightly. This is an easy recipe, but keep an eye on the bacon since some might cook faster than others. I skewered the ones in these photos after they came out of the oven, but this step is completely optional. If you don't want to take the time, merely serve them up without skewers and watch them disappear!

Apricot Thyme Glazed Bacon Sticks



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Apricot Thyme Glazed Bacon Sticks:

1/2 cup apricot preserves
1 1/4 tsp. dried thyme leaves
12 thick sliced bacon strips


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Microwave apricot preserves for 20 seconds or until it is in spreadable consistency. Add thyme and blend. Brush mixture onto both sides of each bacon strip. Line bacon on prepared baking sheet(s) without touching (use two baking sheets if necessary). Bake for 30 minutes or until crispy and brown, turning over once halfway through. If any liquid collects at the halfway mark, drain. Or tip pan to pool liquid and blot dry with paper towels. Return to oven and bake to desired doneness. Place on paper towels to drain. Serve on wooden skewers, optional. Serves 4.









Sunday, April 12, 2015

Shrimp Fra Diavolo


Shrimp Fra Diavolo

One of my favorite dine-out dishes is Shrimp Fra Diavolo. I love carbo-loading on this slightly spicy tomato sauce-based pasta dish with sweet, tender shrimp. And when it is accompanied by really garlicky garlic bread—YUM! one of the best pasta dinners ever!

Every time I order this dish, I always think that I should make it more often at home. It is so much cheaper and so easy to make. Pasta and tomato sauce are pretty inexpensive, so I'm basically paying in inflated price for a handful of shrimp when dining out. Making it at home allows me to add as many shrimp as I want. And I can tailor the spice level to my preference.

Shrimp Fra Diavolo



I start out by sautéing some extra virgin olive oil with anchovy paste and red pepper flakes. Do not omit the anchovy. It will not taste fishy. In fact you won't even know it's there. What it does is enhance the depth of flavor. Onion and garlic are added next, followed by white wine to build up more flavor. Tomato sauce goes in next and brought to a simmer. Finally shrimp is added the last few minutes of cooking, and the whole thing is finished off with fresh basil. 

Shrimp Fra Diavolo



I love that this meal that can be put together in less than 30 minutes. It never fails to fill me up and make me happy. One word of advice while eating Shrimp Fra Diavolo: avoid splashing yourself in the eye at all cost. I got sauce in my eye once at a restaurant and thought I was going to go blind! I don't know how in the world it happened. Never in my decades of eating pasta have I ever experienced such a thing! And with my luck, it had to happen when I was eating a spicy sauce. I had to go the the ladies room (Eww!! I avoid public bathrooms unless it's life or death) to wash the spicy sauce out of my eye. It was bloodshot and teary when I returned to the table, but it did not prevent me from enjoying the rest of my meal—a girl has got to eat!


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Shrimp Fra Diavolo:

10 16/20 count shrimp, deveined with tails on
8 oz. uncooked linguini 
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. anchovy paste (this amount if you're new to anchovies, a little more if you like it)
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (this give just a little bit of warmth, add more for more heat)
1 heaping tsp. chopped garlic
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
3 tbsp. chopped basil (divided)

Boil a large pot of water for cooking. Cook linguini until al dente according to package direction while the sauce simmers.

Preheat olive oil in a large saute pan on medium heat. Add anchovy paste and red pepper flakes. Cook 1 minute. Add onion and garlic. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add wine and cook for 1 minute. Add tomato sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Increase heat to medium. Submerge shrimp in sauce cook for 2 minutes. Turn shrimp over, add 2 tablespoon basil and cook for 1 minute.

Add cooked linguini to sauce, stirring to incorporate. Garnish with the remaining 1 tablespoon basil. Makes 2 servings.







Sunday, April 5, 2015

Springtime Potato Salad



I hope your spring is starting out on a good foot. I am looking forward to enjoying more outdoor activities that do not include freezing to death. This potato salad is a perfect side dish for those upcoming picnics, and cookouts. It is springtime in a bowl. The verdant asparagus and peas, the sunny eggs, the fresh mint, and the citrusy lemon all provide a mouthful of seasonal freshness and flavor. The sweet, tender red creamer potatoes provide a perfect backdrop that permits all of the other colors to pop.




Mint? Did I say mint? Yes! You might be thinking that the mint is a tad unconventional, but if you are looking for something other than the same-old-same-old potatoes, this it it. The herb compliments as well as elevates the flavor of this potato salad. And this dish can be enjoyed with essentially anything. Serve it with beef, chicken, pork, fish, or lamb. Or have it on its own for a filling vegetarian meal. 

Until next time, have a wonderful week!

Springtime Potato Salad



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Springtime Potato Salad:

2 lbs. red creamer potatoes or new potatoes
2 tsp. salt for boiling water
4 eggs
1 1/4 tsp. salt
20 asparagus spears (about 10 ounces)
2/3 cup Miracle Whip
2 1/3 tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice 
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 cup frozen peas, defrosted 
2 tbsp. chopped mint leaves

Cut largest potatoes in half so that they are similar in size to the smaller ones. Place in a medium saucepan. Fill with enough water to cover potatoes by 1-inch. Add 2 teaspoons of salt. Bring to a boil on high. Reduce heat to medium to medium low and boil, (loosely covered) for 15 minutes or until tender. When potatoes are done, remove with a slotted spoon and place on paper towel-lined baking sheet to cool. Do not drain water in pan.

While potatoes cook, boil eggs. Place in a small saucepan and cover eggs with water. Bring to a boil. Cover and remove from heat. Let sit for 15 minutes. Peel. Quarter and cut into small chunks.

Cut the bottom 1/4 to 1/3 off the asparagus. Bring reserved water used for boiling the potatoes back to a boil. Add the asparagus and cook for 2 or so minutes depending crispiness desired. Place in a bowl of ice cold water. Cut into into 1-inch pieces. 

In a large mixing bowl, add cooled potatoes. Combine Miracle Whip, lemon juice, pepper, and 1 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir into potatoes. Add asparagus, peas, eggs, and mint. (If using fresh peas, blanch first for about 1 1/2 minutes.) Stir gently to blend. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. There should be a slight tang from lemon juice, add sparingly if more is needed. Makes 6 servings.



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Monday, March 30, 2015

Candied Vanilla Sugar Wafers



Let me ask you this, how is your sense of direction? I am one of those unfortunate souls who has none. I can go somewhere literally 100 times but when left to my own device to navigate...you'd think I have never been there. My husband, on the other hand, can go somewhere just once and ten years later would remember how to get there and the landmarks along the way. Seriously, how does that man do it? Such a showoff! :)

I blame my shortcoming on hereditary: my mom also lacks a sense of direction. Growing up, there was a department store (Zayre...does that ring a bell?) about 30 minutes away from our house that our family used to go every now and then. Mom did not drive, so dad did all the driving. When I got my license, one of the first places Mom and I wanted to visit was this store. We took off one afternoon with that intention and returned home 1.5 hours later, never having made it there. We lost our bearing  midway and drove around in vain. To our defense, this was before the cell phone or GPS days when you have to find a phone booth to make a call. We were too embarrassed to call home to ask my dad, and apparently, too proud to stop to ask anyone else. 

When we got home Dad asked how our trip was. We said "good", and that was the end of the story....until about a week later when Dad started to ask questions. We came clean. He had a good laugh and never let us live it down. He has always had a keen sense of direction. Our Sunday family drives often involved him driving to unfamiliar places just so he can figure his way back home. 

So, how about you? Do you have a shortcoming that you would like to share...or admit to? I'd love to hear it!

Candied Vanilla Sugar Wafers

Today's main feature are these adorable Candied Vanilla Sugar Wafers. They are springy and perfect for the Easter party dessert table, picnics, birthday parties, what have you. The wafers are coated with colored vanilla almond bark. They are then adorned with sugar crystal-coated marshmallow flower petals which add a colorful and whimsical touch.

And if you are looking for something deliciously fun to make with the children—BINGO!—you have found it! You are very welcome indeed!


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Candied Sugar Wafers:

1 pkg. (24 oz.) Vanilla Almond Bark
48 mini marshmallows
2 tsp. blue sugar crystals
2 tsp. pink sugar crystals
green and yellow food coloring
1 pkg. (11 oz.) Vanilla Sugar Wafers

Melt almond bark according to package directions. I like to melt mine in an oven-safe bowl over a simmering pot of water (do not let water touch the base of the bowl). 

While almond bark melts, make marshmallow flower petals. Cut each in half at a diagonal. Dip the cut side into sugar crystals, making equal amount of blue and pink flower petals.

Knife cutting marshmallow 

Marshmallow flower petals


Once the almond bark has melted, remove 3 tablespoons and place in a small microwaveable bowl. Set aside. Add enough green food coloring to the remaining almond bark in the bowl to obtain desired shade. Stir until well blended and smooth.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside. Working one at a time, dip and coat sugar wafer into melted almond bark. Remove with a fork, allowing excess almond bark to drip back into bowl. Place cookie on parchment-lined baking sheet. Place three marshmallow flower petals in the center to form a flower. Repeat dipping wafers and adding flower petals until almond bark or wafers are gone.

Microwave the reserved almond bark for about 10 seconds or until melted. Add and blend a couple drops (or more) of yellow food coloring to obtain desired color. Place almond bark in the corner a small zip lock bag and twist closed. Cut about 1/4" off the tip of the corner. Pipe a small drop in the center of each flower. Optional, shave off excess dripping on the cookies with a sharp knife. Makes about 32 cookies.