Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes: Cracked wheat bread~

29 01 2011

It’s been foggy here throughout January.  That’s not unusual.  It happens here anytime there’s been reasonably close to “normal” rainfall and can last the entire month…I can remember 21 straight days without seeing the sun one year.  There’s something about the limited visibility, the constant damp chill, and the droplets of water that drip from the trees that makes me crave comfort foods and freshly made bread.  So…I pulled out Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes again, and thumbed through to see what would work with the ingredients I had on hand.  I had some cracked wheat, also known as Bulgar, that I’d just cooked…and plenty of flour and yeast.  And I had enough time to let the dough complete its first cycle.  Bingo!!

I love these recipes.  This is truly a way to have freshly baked bread as often as you want it.  Since I had cooked the bulgar already, I cut back some of the liquid in the recipe…say about 1/3 cup, and I added 1 Tbsp. of sugar.   Even with that, I had to add a lot of extra flour to the recipe.  I think it’s because of the more humid environment.  The flour can’t take on that much more liquid before we start.  I quit adding flour trying to make sure I didn’t get too much flour into the dough a little bit too soon.  That wasn’t totally bad though.  The bread is well structured with a dense, moist interior.  The camera really messed with me this week, or I’d have a picture.  I got 3 loaves out of the recipe and found that 1) cold dough just handles more easily, and 2) slightly wet hands make it easier to handle the dough too.  This really came out too wet to handle with floured hands.  Just remember…I put in cooked cereal, and that added a lot of moisture to the mix.

Tasting Notes~
Oh my goodness!  This is nothing but goodness!  The fact that the cereal was cooked did give us a really moist texture, but that wasn’t at all bad.  It had great flavor and marvelous crust crunch.  I used a baking stone in the oven, and let the dough rest on a polenta covered square of parchment.  The parchment slides easily onto the stone, and then out of the oven.  The parchment isn’t in the oven long enough to completely char (read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit: 451) before the bread is done.  I put a small pan of water in the oven while the bread baked to crisp up that crunchy crust.  Even though it was moist and dense, the bread cut cleanly and evenly, and went very well with almond butter and jelly, cheese, tuna salad, and hot with butter.  I felt a lot better about the bread we were eating this week.  I knew what grains were in there, and what preservatives aren’t.  I’m going to give the 1o grain bread another try…I found some of the 10 grain cereal.  The fact that a loaf bakes in about 30 minutes (at 450°F) means I can serve it fresh from the oven at supper.  If I’d used a slightly smaller amount of dough, I bet we could have had a fresh loaf every night.  What a concept!  I found the recipe to be just about right for a week’s worth of bread, eaten at lunch and supper, for 2 people.





Cooking Italy: “The Other White Meat” Marsala~

29 01 2011

I finally got a chance to finish the second of two recipes scheduled for Cooking Italy this week.  Our two recipes were Bolognese and Veal Marsala.  I made the Bolognese a couple weeks ago, but had to pick up a bottle of Marsala, so it waited.  In the meanwhile, Sue of Couscous and Consciousness mentioned in a group email that she thought this recipe would work well with pork chops.  That got me thinking… I knew I still had a couple of thick, boneless pork loin chops hiding somewhere in the freezer.  I found them!

This recipe goes together very quickly.  I cut my pork chops into two scallops using a very sharp knife and a horizontal cut.  My husband can’t watch me do that.  I understand.  It was the same for me watching him fall timber.  With a firm, but light touch, pound the chops flat.  The rest of the recipe…sorry, but you’ll need to buy the book…goes according to the book.  It cooks just as quickly as veal or chicken.  Make sure you have all the other components of your dinner finished before you start cooking this…it’s that fast.  I wanted a bit more body to my sauce, so I mounted it with a couple pats of butter in the end.

Tasting Notes~
I have to say that Sue’s instincts were spot on!  The Marsala Sauce was absolutely fabulous with the pork!  Marsala tends to be a little on the sweet side…ok, a lot along the sweet side!  Cooking it down makes those flavors intensify.  There’s no seasoning on the meat as it cooks, so it’s pure essence of whatever protein you choose and the wine.  As the Marsala condenses, it develops a richer sweetish taste with spicy notes.  Perfect with pork!  I’ve got to try this again with chicken, and should it become available, veal!

Excellent selection Angela!





Thirty Minute Thursday: Fusilli with Butternut squash and Pancetta~

27 01 2011

I’ve cooked a lot of Giuliano Hazan’s recipes from Thirty Minute Pasta this week.  I don’t know if it’s because of time constraints or being budget conscious, but we sure have been eating well!  LOL!   My husband says he always eats the best when our budget is tight…I wonder what that means?  Without regard, before the winter gets away from us, I really wanted to try a recipe using butternut squash.  This one really caught my eye!

Fusilli with Butternut Squash and Pancetta was a really easy recipe that might just come in a few minutes under 3o minutes!  Although this is my first experience using butternut squash with pasta, I was quite pleased with the results, and the recipe got the rating of “Keeper!” on our list.  The pancetta provides just enough spice and salt for the dish, and the butternut comes out being buttery and nutty…a rich, primarily vegan meal for sure.  Sacrifice the pancetta and you’re there.  The squash simmers and softens while the pasta cooks…couldn’t be easier!

The fusilli is a great choice (also known as rotini or corkscrews) because the ridges in the pasta grab onto the sauce so you get a little almost sweet, buttery sauce in each and every bite.  It’s also a beautiful color!  This would make a gorgeous Autumn dish!  Hazan’s directions are so easy to follow.  He guides you every minute of the way!

Tasting Notes~
We really did enjoy this dish.  I’d like to try it with some of the other, firm winter squash varieties.  The butternut was just wonderful…but I have a load of acorn squash to use!  I think the acorn squash is too fibrous for this application.  Other orange squashes might work ok, such as banana squash…certainly pumpkin!  The butternut cooked down to a smooth consistency with no trouble at all, and the sauce was completed almost before I knew I’d gotten started.  Don’t hesitate to snitch a little of the pasta cooking water if your squash cooks dry too quickly…it helps the squash mash more smoothly.  A little texture is good, so don’t get too carried away trying to smooth it out completely.  I’d make this recipe again without hesitation…and soon!

Look Who’s Cooking…
You should really visit Kayte at Grandma’s Kitchen Table…  She created Spaghetti ai Gamberi, Pomodoro e Capperi (Spaghetti with Shrimp, Tomatoes, and Capers) for her dish this week!  And it’s beautiful!  I haven’t made this particular dish yet, but Kayte says, “Simply delicious, definitely a repeat.”  That works for me!

Another Blog-Chef who’s cooking the same book, Abby of Stir it! Scrape it! Bake it!, has created Rigatoni with onions, pancetta, and pecorino. I know this one is good!  I’ve made it a few times when I’ve already had pancetta in the house.

Please don’t hesitate to join us here!  If Thursday isn’t your 30 Minute day, that’s not a problem!  I just gather the posts to post on Thursday.  My actual 30 minute day is almost always Tuesday.  That doesn’t stop me from picking up Thirty Minute Pasta other times though!  LOL!  Just drop a post, or email me (the link is on the sidebar) to let me know that your post is  up with your URL and I’ll link you up!  No desperately hard and fast rules here…I just want to enjoy cooking and eating the food!





Thirty Minute Thursday: Penne with asparagus and prosciutto

20 01 2011

My selection for TMT this week is the Giuliano Hazan’s Penne with asparagus and prosciutto.  I can sum this up in one word…KEEPER!  Maybe it’s because it’s been so foggy and the world seems so colorless in the fog, day after day…  Maybe it’s because thin spears of asparagus just seem to whisper…Spring is coming soon!  Maybe it’s because rather than using penne, I used “gigli”…*giggle*  Sorry…couldn’t help that one!  Aren’t the little trumpets cute?  They served the same purpose as the penne…catching and holding the creamy sauce…  I don’t know exactly what it was, but this is a fabulous dish!

Here we are with the sauce just before adding the cheese and pasta…  I swear, this fit inside 30 minutes with photo time included.  I was amazed!  I usually manage to dink away enough additional time to cost me 45 minutes on most 30 minute nights.  I usually chalk that up to not having a stop-watch going, and laugh it off.   I confess that I used a slightly different prep method…  I sauteéd my onions, added the asparagus, cut into 1-1/2 inch pieces, reserving the thinnest stalks and all the tops to be cooked last, and the prosciutto to the pan.  I added 1/3 cup of water to the pan after the prosciutto had lost its raw color and simmered the asparagus while the pasta cooked.   When the water was mostly evaporated, I stirred in the cream and the cheese.  By that time my pasta was done.   Gigli pasta, meet fresh creamy sauce!

Tasting Notes~
In a word…KEEPER!  Seriously…the prosciutto gives just the right amount of seasoning to the sauce, and the asparagus…with that special natural essence that makes everything you eat after it taste just a little sweeter…ends up making the creamy sauce just a bit on the sweet, nutty, creamy side, and it’s heavenly!  It sings of Spring days to come.  I admit, the photos would have been prettier had I used white pasta, but…c’mon…could you resist something called “gigli”??  Obviously I couldn’t!  It was too fun!  I’m glad I only made a half recipe…that way I can have it again, nice and fresh!  This was heaven after a really challenging day in the office!





Cooking Italy: Ragu alla Bolognese from La Cucina Italiana~

19 01 2011

This is the third bolognese ragu sause we’ve made in Cooking Italy.  Each has been just a little different…one sweeter than the rest…one meatier than the rest (this one), and one that seemed just right…  That isn’t to say that they weren’t all good sauces…they were, but so very different for being made with the same ingredients (more or less).

This sauce comes from La Cucina Italiana.  Our hostess, Angela, and I both have subscriptions.   From time to time we’ll each get excited about recipes we see there!  This is a recipe from 2009, that was easy to put together, but I found the cooking time estimates to be far from accurate.  The problem is…it’s bolognese…ragu…it wants to be cooked long and slow, and build the layers of flavor slowly…concentrating each addition as much as you can before adding the next component.  I see a lot of hurry-up recipes, and that really doesn’t work.  It’s a precious sauce…it’s worth the time.  Most of the time, a sauce like this is worth doubling…but this one…this one is pretty big to start with.  Neither Angela nor I recommend doubling this recipe.  I got about 8 cups of sauce out of a single batch, BUT…I used more meat by about 3/4 of a pound over all, which also means I adjusted the other ingredients slightly as well.  So…let’s get started!

A little mise en place…onion, carrot, celery and butter to get started with.  Once the veggies have cooked down and are translucent, add the pancetta and sausage.  Cook just until the rawness is gone from the meat.  Add the beef, pork and veal in turn, cooking each until no longer pink and the meat is well broken up.  Cook at a brisk simmer until the meat juices are fully reduced.

Reducing the meat juices reduces the liquids and intensifies the flavors.  We’re going to cook down the initial meat juices, then add tomato and meat broth and simmer that down.  When that has reduced some, we’ll be adding wine.  Some prefer red, others prefer white.  I used a Chianti in my sauce.

Long simmering breaks the meat down as well, especially once you add the wine.  The meat will break down into individual bits rather than chunks so that it’s more likely to spread across the pasta.  The picture above shows how the sauce looked after I stirred in the final addition of milk.  I know it sounds completely odd to add milk to a meat sauce, but it’s part of the character of the Bolognese region.  They have a great deal of milk, so they use it every way they can.  The milk binds the sauce while it mellows the acids in the tomato and wine.  I chose not to pull any of the fat off my sauce.  There really wasn’t all that much when I spread it out over 3 containers and a saucepan.

Here’s our finished sauce with spinach linguini.  I think the tomato paste helped with the deeper red color.  Of course, pureeing the tomato products pretty much made sure that they were dispersed equally throughout the sauce as well.  The tomatoes I used were our own canned San Marzano tomatoes.  I should keep track of how many I use! LOL!  It’s getting time to plant again…how many pints do I need to can for next year?  We’re certainly loving having these!

Tasting Notes~
I’m not sure whether I like this sauce better than Marcella Hazan’s Classic Bolognese…but I like both better than I liked the Essentials Bolognese.  That one was just too sweet for me.  At least as a meat sauce…  I like this one, but it’s expensive…veal…pancetta…  So, if budget has anything to say about it, I’ll be making the Classic Hazan Bolognese for now. Veal is usually rather cost prohibitive where I live, but we keep an eye out!  I’d love to be able to lay all three sauces out side by side for comparison.  With only 2 of us to eat, that’s not likely to happen…unless there’s a BIG potluck! LOL!  Another Cooking Italy chef recently hooked me up with a Mario Batali recipe for bolognese.  There’s another one to try! *Ü*  I’ll give it a try, but the cooking time is very short by comparison…so we’ll see!  Meanwhile, I’ve got a freezer full of bolognese for any occasion!





Thirty Minute Thursday: Spaghettini with Olive oil and Garlic~

14 01 2011

My selection from Giuliano Hazan’s Thirty Minute Pasta this week is  an adaptation of Spaghettini with olive oil and garlic.  The recipe calls for hot pepper flakes, but I wasn’t feeling particularly in need of the heat, so we subbed off freshly grown and harvested with my very own hands button mushrooms!

Over at Grandma’s Kitchen Table, Kayte prepared Fusilli with Sausage and Zucchini.  You should follow the link.  It’s simply gorgeous!  Very Italian with the red (tomatoes), green (zucchini) and white (pasta)!   I also know from experience, that the taste is fabulous!

Back in our own kitchen, I chose the spaghettini with olive oil and garlic because I had roasted a chicken and some squash.  We had a bumper crop of acorn squash here.  We shared a LOT, still could share a LOT, and still have plenty for us to eat. There are still only two of us.  These were actually way too large for servings, but…what the heck.  It’s good for ya!  Chicken was at a record low price this week…77¢ per pound…that’s half what they’ve been running!  I bought 3…so far.  Chicken is pretty versatile, and I’m pretty flexible.  At that price, I can cut and wrap 3 or 4 birds and have some great soup stock base too…but that’s another post!  The purpose of telling you that was to explain why pasta became a side dish this week!  We were roasting chicken, and our very own, garden grown, almost 100% organic acorn squash!

I really do love being able to bring food from my garden to my table.  Right now, it hardly looks possible…  The garden is at it’s most bleak…dark, foggy, leaf strewn…abandoned.  No sign of hope or life…well…a few signs of life.  The garlic is sprouting….and the strawberries are spreading their leaves across their bed.  Flower bulbs are sending up leaves, but no flower spikes yet.  I ordered some seed yesterday.  Nothing too crazy, but just a little sensible.  I ordered some herbs and tomatoes I’d like to get started.   With some concerted effort, we could start some things next month…peas, lettuce, spinach…anything that can stand some cold…if we protect it some.  But let’s get back to what we do on Thursdays!

This is one of the easiest, quickest little pasta dishes there is.  Saute a little garlic…toss in a bit of this, some of that, toss your pasta in, and serve.  What could be easier?  The spaghettini cooks fast…use thin spaghetti instead, or even angel hair, although angel hair or capellini is a bit more fine even that this is.  Spaghettini has just a bit more body than angel hair.  Like I said, I used mushrooms this time, off the recipe.  I sauteéd them in olive oil, and cooked them until almost all their water had evaporated off…then added the garlic in so it infused into the mushrooms.  When the pan dried, I added the remaining olive oil for the pasta and let it heat.  Simply yummy.  I cut all recipes in half if at all possible…and I did the same with this one, if my quantities look off to you.  That’s another thing I love about Giuliano’s recipes…they’re easy to reduce by half!

As always, anyone who would like to cook along with us is welcome!  You’ll need a copy of Thirty Minute Pasta by Giuliano Hazan, and 30 minutes or so to prepare a dish!  It takes longer to write the post up! *giggle*  I’m excited that Giuliano has visited us and knows we’re here!  If you’d like to cook along, please email me with your post and I’ll include you in the weekly round up!

Buon Appetit!





Resolutions, goals or challenges?

9 01 2011

Photo courtesty FreeFoto.com

It’s the time of year when a lot of folks like to make resolutions…  I’m not one of them.  Other folks set new goals for themselves….I’m going to read “X” number of books this year!  I’m not one of them either.  I accept challenges.  I usually accept challenges as they smack me between the eyes, and preferably as they come by me.  I love cooking challenges.  I love learning challenges.  When those two get together it’s a lot of fun!

Life throws me enough of its kind of challenges that I don’t need to try to commit to filling my plate with extra servings of sports club work-outs…there’s plenty of work to be done around here that doesn’t require spending extra money for them to tell me when I can be there and what they’d like me to do.  Have you ever hauled brush or shoveled anything wet?  Let well enough alone.  I don’t need time on a treadmill…I can trudge through the mud in my own backyard and get plenty of resistance training, thanks though!  Pilates?  I pull a lot of hay and carry it.  Does that count?  Then there’s the garden…

The garden may appear to be sleeping right this minute, but it’s already 8 weeks until our last frost!!  There are garlic plants up already, coriander is up, the strawberries are spreading like a blanket…spring bulbs are up and about, the first narcissus is already in bloom!!  The challenge there is to keep the bodkin healthy enough to stand up to the general aches and pains of creeping antiquity, each searing ache a memory of its own.  Would I trade?  Not for the most part!  I’m hoping to be canning pickles and tomatoes this year, and I strive to be self sufficient in the culinary herb department.  It’s much easier to nip out to the garden and snip a few fronds than pay $2.99 to the grocer for whatever they might have in whatever condition it might be in.  The same $2.99 will just about pay for a full packet of seeds or a 4 inch plant.  My rosemary is now 4 years old, and my thyme is wintering it’s second winter…we must be doing something right!

The biggest challenge of all is never losing sight of remembering that Life is to be shared and enjoyed.  Taking on too much, for too long isn’t a good thing.  Peaks and valleys are ok, but try to keep things in moderation for the most part.  Make sure that your investments of energy go to things you love.  Then, no matter the sacrifice, it will all have been worth it in the end.  That having been said…get out there and do something you love!