Month: July 2011

Beer Bread with Bacon and Chives (did I mention the bacon?)

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July is Craft Beer Month here in the state of Michigan, so to honor this wonderful month I wanted to make some Beer Bread.  Did you ever want a nice loaf of bread but didn’t want to deal with the hassle?  It’s a pretty involved process — proofing the yeast, mixing and kneading the dough, letting the dough rise, letting the dough rise again, and whatnot.  Don’t get me wrong, making a nice bread from scratch is something to be proud of.  Not a lot of people can do it well.  But what about the rest of us?  That’s why I like this recipe.  It is one of the easiest recipes that I know, and plus it involves beer!  Well, at least the base recipe is very simple; just take out the butter, chives, and bacon.  But come on — it’s butter and bacon!

So let’s talk about beer for just a second.  I only have a couple of summer favorites — 1) Old Speckled Hen from Suffolk, England, 2) San Miguel from the Philippines, 3) the fabulous Allagash White from Portland, ME, 4) Newcastle from Scotland (I think), and 5) a Michigan beer from Bell’s brewery called Oberon.  Oberon has kind of a cult following with some pubs and fans celebrating when the first batches come out for the year.  I used to have a calendar that marked the “opening days” of all their beers.  Not sure where it went though.  But I luv Oberon; nothing goes better with Michigan summers than a slice of orange and an ice-cold glass of Oberon!

But back to the bread.  This is a fairly hearty bread.  It can hold its own against bigger flavors, but you don’t necessarily want a competition for your attention.  This is great just on its own.  Maybe put a couple of slices in the broiler or toaster for a couple of seconds and you should be all set.  Here’s what you need:

  • 1 bottle of beer (I used Bell’s Oberon)
  • 3 c. self-rising flour
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 2 T. chopped chives
  • 4 strips of crispy bacon, chopped
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 stick of butter, melted

1.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9-in loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside.

2.  Put all the ingredients except the butter together in a bowl.  Using a wooden spoon, mix the batter well, until combined.  The mixture will be very thick and sticky.

3.  Transfer the dough to the loaf pan and pour the melted butter on top.  Bake for about 1 hr and 15 minutes, until nicely browned on the top.

4.  Turn out onto a wire rack to cool.  If done correctly, the bread will be pretty dense and crusty.

Notes — You can try a whole bunch of different herbs in this one.  I just use chives because I have them growing out back. . . Also try a whole bunch of different beers and ales.  Guinness makes a wonderful beer bread as does a Sam Adams Cranberry Lambic. . . Like I said above, take out the butter, bacon, and chives (not that you would) and you have the base recipe.  You can take the base and modify it as you like. . . maybe a little cheese on top because butter and bacon apparently isn’t enough. . . PS — the ends are the best cuz those slices have the most crust, which has been surrounded by butter for over an hour!  Look, I never said that this was healthy. . .

Strawberry Rhubarb Streusel Cake

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Strawberry and Rhubarb — another one of those classic combinations.  Now this cake is interesting in that it is a little bit different from ones that I usually make.  First of all, it has more of a sheet cake thing going on (but not really).  Not that I don’t make sheet cakes, but I usually do rounds.  Secondly, there’s a filling baked into the cake.  But third (thirdly?) and most important (importantly?), this is made using a different technique.

Here is how I usually make a cake:  1)  sift together dry ingredients and set aside; 2) cream together the butter and sugar; 3)  add your eggs one at a time; 4) gradually add your dry ingredients, alternating with milk or something like that.  And that’s your batter.  This is known as the creaming method, which is the most popular way to make a cake.  This particular recipe is different in that you cut in the fat directly into the flour, like you were making some shortbread or pate brisee.  Known as the rubbing-in, cutting-in, or one-bowl method, this technique gets you a very delicate cake, but it’s not as light and airy as when you use the creaming method.  There’s lots of technical reasons why, but that could be discussed some other time.  Anyhoo, here’s what you need:

For the filling:

  • 3 c. rhubarb, cut into 1-in. pieces
  • 1 qt. fresh strawberries, chopped
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1/3 c. cornstarch

In a medium saucepan, combine the rhubarb, strawberries, and lemon juice.  Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes.  This might not seem like a lot of liquid, but the rhubarb holds a lot which cooks out.  Meanwhile mix together the sugar and cornstarch.  Stir into the strawberry – rhubarb mixture.  Bring to a boil, stirring until thickened.  Set aside.

For the topping:

  • 1/4 c. butter, melted
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 3/4 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 t. cinnamon

Mix together all four ingredients until everything resembles a crumblike texture.  Set aside

For the cake:

  • 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 c. honey
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 1/2 c. buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 1 c. strawberries, chopped

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9 x 13 in. baking pan with cooking spray.

2.  Sift together flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a mixing bowl.  Cut in the butter into the flour mixture until you get a coarse crumblike texture.  I mixed this in my stand mixer with the paddle attachment for about 5 – 7 minutes.

3.  Beat together the eggs, honey, buttermilk, and vanilla.  Add to the butter & flour mixture and combine.  With a spatula, gently fold in the chopped strawberries.

4.  Spoon half of the batter into the prepared pan.  Gently spread the strawberry – rhubarb filling over the top.  Spoon the rest of the batter over the filling.  Sprinkle the topping on top of the cake.

5.  Bake for about 45 – 60 minutes, until done in the center.  Cool in the pan for about 20 minutes.  Cut into squares and serve.

Shredded Greens with Marinated Glass Noodles and a Garlic-Soy Vinaigrette

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We are waist deep into summer, and for me that means that I need to avoid using my stove / oven at all costs.  Especially this week; it was over 100 degrees F yesterday.  So that means no real baking for the next couple of days / weeks / months.  Oh, how I miss the 2 feet of snow I had in the backyard nigh just a few months ago.  So since cooking and baking slow down, all this heat also means a lot of outdoor grilling and a lot of salads.  And with the farmer’s markets in full swing, why not take advantage of nature’s bounty?

I may have said this before, but I am not a fan of iceberg lettuce.  It’s only real purpose, in my opinion, is to keep my hamburger bun from getting soggy with burger-y juicy goodness.  So this salad will not have any of that stuff.  I use Red and Butter Lettuces here with some sliced onion and radish.  The little twist is that I added some marinated glass noodle.  It adds a nice bit of texture and interest, especially after chilling in the fridge of a couple of minutes or so.  I do also rather like the dressing.  It’s simple and I think you have a nice balance of flavors — you get some sweetness from the honey, some saltiness from the soy sauce, there’s the acid from the vinegar, and the raw garlic adds some heat and bitterness.  And all that flavor is wrapped up in a lovely olive oil.  Here’s what you need:

For the noodle:

  • 1 – 2 “bundles” of glass / cellophane noodles (Chinese vermicelli)
  • 2 c. water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 T. seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1/4 c. soy sauce
  • 1 – 2 t. sesame oil

1.  In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil with the bay leaf.  Once boiling, add the vinegar and soy sauce.

2.  Remove from the heat and add the glass noodle.  Let steep for 5 – 7 minutes.

3.  Strain and toss with some sesame oil.  Set aside.

For the vinaigrette:

  • 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 T. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 T. seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 T. soy
  • 1-2 T. honey
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped

1.  Whisk together olive oil, vinegars, and soy sauce until well blended.

2.  Add honey and combine.  The honey will help hold the emulsion and add some sweetness.

3.  Add the black pepper and chopped garlic.  Stir to coat and set aside.

Assemble the salad:

  • 1 head of butter lettuce
  • 1 head of red lettuce
  • 3 radishes, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 large white onion, thinly sliced

1.  Separate the leaves of lettuce.  Place them in a water bath to wash them.  Shred the leaves into bite-sized pieces and spin them dry.

2.  Place a bed of the lettuces on a plate.  In the center of the lettuce, place 1/2 the noodle, twisted with a fork to make a “nest”.

3. Drizzle the salad with the dressing.  Whisk the vinaigrette to re-emulsify if it separated whilst assembling the salad.  Repeat the steps to make a second salad or save everything to make a salad tomorrow!

Notes — I did top off the noodles with some left over lo mein.  I figured it would add a little bit of extra flavor, plus help clean out the fridge. . .  Also, I tend to like my dressings on the tart side, so I probably use more vinegar than most.  Usually the ratio of oil to vinegar is around 3:1 depending on the strength of the vinegar.  Try some different things out and see what you prefer.  And use high quality stuff.  You can’t mask sub-par ingredients here because you will definitely taste it. . . You will have plenty of extra greens here.  After shredding them, just place them in a zip top bag with a slightly damp paper towel and they will stay fresh for a while, maybe a week or so.  I can’t really recommend someone go to the market and just peel off a few leaves of lettuce here and there!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake

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Is there a better combination that chocolate and peanut butter?  It is one of those combinations which is now a classic.  I am a huge fan of peanut butter cups, and it doesn’t matter who makes it either.  In fact, I love those ones that you find in the bargain bin at your local grocery store that you can buy by-the-pound for like $0.25 / lb.  I almost prefer them; maybe it’s all the additives.  But what I really love are the Peanut Butter Eggs that Reese’s puts out during Easter.  There is something about the Eggs that are delicious!  I don’t know what’s going on there, but those are the best!  And it’s just the Eggs.  The other things like the Christmas Trees just don’t taste quite right.

Anyhoo, to the cake. . . This recipe is a sour cream chocolate cake with a peanut butter cream cheese frosting.  I garnished the top with some chopped candied peanuts that I made earlier.  I was thinking about reversing it, having a peanut butter cake with a chocolate buttercream.  The problem was that I don’t have a tried and tested peanut butter cake recipe, so go with what you know.  I wish I could follow that logic with those damn Sugar Cookies (which is on take #3, by the way)!  This recipe makes 2 9-in. cakes which I split to make a 4-layer cake.  Since it has 4 layers, you may need a double batch of the frosting, depending on how much you put in between the layers.  Here’s what you need:

For the cake:

  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 c. cornstarch
  • 2 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2/3 c. sour cream
  • 1 T. vanilla
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/3 c. vegetable oil
  • 1 1/4 c. cold water

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray two 9-in round cake pans with cooking spray; line with parchment and spray the parchment as well.

2.  Sift together the dry ingredients (flour, cornstarch, cocoa, baking soda, and salt) into a medium-sized bowl.  Set aside.

3.  Whisk together the eggs and sour cream in a separate bowl until well blended.  Add the vanilla and mix well.  Set aside as well.

4.  In the bowl of a mixer with a paddle attachment, mix together the melted butter and oil.  Add the water and mix well.

5.  Add the flour mixture all at once and mix on low for about 1 minute.  Now add the egg mixture in one addition and mix until well blended (about another minute).  Scrape the sides down as needed.

6.  Divide the batter evenly into the two pans.  Bake for about 35 – 40 until a cake tester comes out clean.

7.  Cool cakes in the pans on top of cooling racks for 15 -20 minutes.  Then invert the pans onto racks, remove the parchment liners and cool the cakes completely before splitting lengthwise to make your four layers out of the two cakes..

For the frosting:

  • 1 c. creamy peanut butter
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, about room temperature
  • 1 stick butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 c. sour cream
  • 1 c. powdered sugar
  • 1 T. vanilla

Using a food processor, mix all the ingredients until smooth and well blended.  Scrape down the sides as necessary.  To get the chocolaty frosting, I took a portion of the peanut butter frosting and folded in some melted chocolate.  But I’ve also folded in a dark chocolate spread before as well.  You can also fold in some Nutella or gianduia, that is if you are lucky enough to have some gianduia lying around the house.  One day I’ll be able to make this part of my regular pantry items.

Assemble the cake:

I like to start by putting a small dollop of the frosting in the middle of a cakeboard round.  This helps hold the cake in place.  Place about 1/3 – 1/2 c. of frosting on top of the first layer and smooth it out.  You can use strips of wax paper in between the bottom cake layer and the cakeboard to help keep it or the serving platter clean.  Place the next layer on top of the bottom one and repeat frosting.  Repeat with the other layers as well.

Smooth out a crumb coat on the outside of the assembled layers and place in the refrigerator to cool for about 15 minutes.  Complete frosting over the crumb coat.  You can garnish the top of the cake with some of the chocolate frosting mixture (if you made some) and pipe out some rosettes.

Notes — One trick you can use is to cut a very small notch out of the cakes before you split them.  That way you can line them up correctly so you can get a nice level top.

Gougere (aka Cheezy Poofs)

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Happy Bastille Day!  So to celebrate I thought I’d make some Gougere.  That’s just French for “cheese puffs”.  Well, probably not, but that’s what they are.  But I was thinking one day about making certain sweet items more savory.  Cream puffs came to mind, so I was thinking about what would be a way to make them less sweet.  And — Bam! — cheese would work.

After doing some digging, it turns out I’m not all that much of  an innovator.  Looks like the French did this like millions of years ago.  Maybe I should read more French cookbooks.  This recipe basically follows your simple pate-a-choux recipe which is essentially a 1-1-1-4 combination.  That is 1 stick of butter, 1 cup of water, 1 cup of flour, and 4 eggs.  Plus any salt, pepper, and sugar you might add.  This makes about 40, depending on how big you make them.

Anyhoo, here’s what you need:

  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 t. sugar
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. grated Gruyère
  • 1/2 c. grated cheddar
  • 1/4 c. grated parmesan
  • 5 eggs
  • 3 T. fresh herbs
  • 1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Make an egg wash by mixing together one egg and 1 T. heavy cream; set aside.  Bring 1 c. water, the salt, sugar, and butter to a boil in a saucepan.  Cook until butter is melted.  Add in the flour all at once and stir to combine.

2.  Cook the flour combination for about 5 minutes, until there is a film covering the bottom of the pan.  Transfer to a bowl.

3.  Add the cheeses to the mixture and mix well.  One at a time, add 4 eggs, mixing after each addition.  Now add the herbs and black pepper and incorporate.

4.  Using a piping bag, pipe out 1 – 2 inch rounds onto a lined baking sheet.  If needed, dip your finger into a bowl of water and smooth out the tops.  Brush the puffs with the egg wash and top with a little cheese if you have any leftover.

5.  Bake for about 20 – 25 minutes until golden and puffed.  Serve immediately.

Notes — A couple of things:  (1) Now I was watching a clip on-line from Martha and they said that you could bake these and freeze them.  I certainly hope that’s the case since I will have a lot leftover.  I have frozen some pies before with no problems so I’m guessing it should work out fine.  (2) Also, you can just drop the puffs if you don’t want to pipe them out.  Just smooth out the tops to get a nice uniform shape.  (3) You can substitute a variety of cheeses, but I’d figure you want some kind of good melting cheese at least.  I wonder what using a Stilton would be like.

Pink Martini with Bison Grass Vodka

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I love Pink Martini!  It is hard to really describe the sound of the band.  Even with only 12-members, they still achieve the big band sound which is why they have been called the “Little Orchestra”.  They do some jazz standards, as well as original material, and different interpretations of classical music.  They also do a whole range of world music and have recorded songs in multiple languages.  For example, their most recent holiday CD has a Japanese version of White Christmas, a Chinese New Year carol, a song from a Verdi opera, and a couple of songs for Hanukkah.  I know I can’t really describe their music all that well so you should just check out their website or look them up on YouTube.

I was just at their show just this past weekend which closed out our Summer Festival.  So in honor of the concert, I thought I’d try to conjure up a Pink Martini recipe!  Here’s what I came up with:

  • 1 oz. rhubarb syrup
  • 2 oz. bison / buffalo grass vodka (or gin)
  • splash of raspberry liquor
  • splash of cranberry nectar
  • dash of bitters
  • ice

Place all ingredients into a cocktail shaker and shake well.  Strain into a glass.

Notes — If you wanted to substitute some gin for the vodka that should be fine.  I do not like gin, so that’s why I use the buffalo (bison) grass vodka.  It is similar to the gin in that they both have that organic, botanical taste.  The one that I have at home is Bak’s, but if you come across some others, I definitely recommend it.  It used to be banned in this country so that might make it a little tricky to find.  I guess the grass has a certain chemical that is a little bit toxic and, um, anti-coagulant-y.  They use that same chemical in rat poison. . . . yay!  But that does give it a certain “forbidden fruit” allure to it.

Sugar Cookies, take #1

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Happy National Sugar Cookie Day!  So to celebrate, I made some sugar cookies.  Well, attempted, I should say.  These were supposed to be sugar cookies.  But these really didn’t turn out quite right.  It’s not that they tasted bad, but they didn’t taste like “cookies”.  I’d say that these were a lot closer to shortbread than to cookies.  The flavor and texture were good, but it wasn’t what I was expecting.

Just another work in progress.  So I won’t even bother with posting a recipe with this one.  But I will say that these had some coconut and whole wheat flour.  Maybe that was the problem.  Sometimes I just go and make some changes without thinking.  But again, cooking and baking is a process.  But sometimes I should just stick to the recipe!  Nevertheless, I am probably going to need to add more butter to this one.  Butter solves everything!

Of course, I had to use up some of my sanding sugars.  And here is my attempt at making them look pretty.

I will definitely have to retry this one.  Hopefully I can do this national holiday that honors one of our most beloved cookies some justice.  But at least I made some “whole wheat coconut shortbread“.