Sunday, May 31, 2009

It's a . . . .

giant loaf of Greek Celebration Bread!!

My baby will turn 2 this summer. I've been sorting through baby clothes and donating baby gear. But it's a little emotional, moving on to the next phase in life. And I think in the wake of this "no more babies in the house" reality, I've been subconsciously looking for something else that will keep me up late at night, something that will require my attention and nurturing every couple of hours. Something like bread.

My first baby was born a couple of weeks early, and had a rough entry into the world. I had a conversation with my husband when he was about 6 months old.
C: I remember when they first showed me Jacob after he was born. I could not even believe how beautiful he was. All I could think was "Oh my gosh! He is perfect!" What did you think when you first saw him?

D: I thought "Oh my gosh! He is purple!"

And when some friends of ours had a baby, David and I spoke with our friend B, the dad, when he called us from the hospital after the baby was born:

C: Well, who does he look like? You or A?
B: Um. He sort of looks like Winston Churchill.
D: That's okay. All babies look like Winston Churchill.

But see, that's the thing. Mothers are blinded by love and pride when it comes to their children; they don't notice the purple and they NEVER think that their babies look like Winston Churchill. And such was definitely the case with me when my new baby, Artos, was born freakishly large:

We wrapped Artos in swaddling clothes and took lots of pictures:

Here is Jacob, the proud big brother, with his new baby bread:

Shortly after Artos was born, the nurse whisked him away to check his vitals. He was a perfect 190 degrees inside, and measured a whopping 18.5" x 6.5" x 4". Big boy!

The weigh-in:

Uh-oh. I feel a "beat the already-ridiculous metaphor to death" moment coming on.

Here is Artos' ultrasound picture, when he was just a bun in the oven:

Sorry about that.

Well, looks like I've gone off on some silly tangent again, and now if I take the time to actually talk about the bread in detail, this post will become way too long. I suggest you check out other #BBA blogs to get some real information about the bread. Just a couple of quick highlights about my Artos:

* Artos is a Greek Celebration Bread. It's a sweet bread, filled with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, lemon zest, almond extract, honey, raisins, and almonds.

* There are several options for shaping this bread, but I decided to braid Artos. Peter Reinhart provides excellent, detailed step-by-step photographs of braiding techniques. His techniques require you to (mentally) number the strands of bread; for example, for the triple braid that I did, you've got, from left to right, 1, 2, and 3. But I was afraid that I would lose track of which was which when I started braiding; for example, once 1 goes over 2, is 1 now 2 and 2 now 1? My head started spinning just thinking about it, so I numbered my strands with dried cherries:

Pretty clever, eh?

* Here is Artos, fully braided and ready for his final rise:

I'm not quite sure why Artos was as ginormous as he was. Funny -- when I started baking bread, I was afraid that my dough wouldn't rise. Now I'm afraid that my dough won't stop rising.

Well, there is really no way to make this transition gentle. We ate Artos. And we really enjoyed him! He made great toast, and even better french toast. David really enjoyed the multicultural aspect of having Greek Celebration French Toast (it took me a while to get what he was talking about, but I'm a little slow that way).

Greek Celebration Bread, or Artos, is the second recipe in Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice. I'm baking through the book with my slow & steady subgroup buddies, and as part of the larger #BBA group. Next up: bagels!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ellie's Crispy Fish Fingers and Ina's Outrageous Brownies

This week's CEiMB recipe, Crispy Fish Fingers, was chosen by Rainforest Recipes. I've been totally confused all week about what day it is, and almost didn't get to this. But frozen fish sticks are one food (or at least "food-like product") that my kids will eat, so I thought there was a chance that the real thing would go over well. These are pretty easy to make - throw a couple of slices of wheat bread in the food processor to make bread crumbs and then toast the crumbs in a dry skillet; dredge strips of flounder in a mixture of whole wheat flour, salt & pepper; then eggs; then the bread crumbs, and bake. I used Aggie's trick and baked them on a cooling rack on top of a baking sheet, which really helped make them crisp all around.

I served the kids' with ketchup, and David's and mine with Ellie's dipping sauce (greek yogurt, mayonnaise, dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce and a pinch of cayenne). Verdict? My littlest one loved these. My second born took a couple of bites of the fish, but was mainly distracted by the broccoli that she wanted removed from her plate. My oldest looked downright sullen at the prospect of having to eat the fish. He tried to negotiate his way to a frozen waffle with peanut butter, but we showed him who's boss and told him to focus on the sides if he didn't like the fish. David and I had a similar opinion of these - like many of Ellie's recipes, the fish fingers were very good, if maybe a little bland. But the sauce was really flavorful and pretty much took care of any bland fish problems.

The Barefoot Bloggers recipe this week is Ina's Outrageous Brownies, chosen by Eva of I'm Boring (note to Eva: No you're not!). I've had problems lately with raw brownie innards, so I was happy to see Ina's baking method for these brownies -- they get baked on a large baking sheet rather than in the usual 9"x13" pan. This worked out fabulously -- these were not thin brownies by any means, but they were baked all the way through. I should note that the full recipe makes an obscene amount of brownies. I needed a nap by the time I cut through all of them. This is definitely the brownie recipe you want to break out when you find out that the army of a small nation, an NFL team, or Kayte's 16 year old sons are coming over for dinner.

Here are the brownies. I took them out of the freezer to photograph, so they look kind of frozen in this picture:

I told the kids to scoot while I took a couple of pictures, and then they could have a brownie for dessert. Here they are, scooting:

These brownies are not just outrageous, they are "pound-of-butter-two-pounds-of- chocolate-two-plus-cups-of-sugar-half-dozen-eggs" outrageous. They really do shock the conscience even if you bake every week like I do. But if you are going to go all out in the brownie department, this is a great one to go all out with. My one mistake: the recipe calls for instant coffee powder, and I substituted an equal amount of espresso powder, which is what I had on hand. I think the coffee powder would have just enhanced the intensity of the chocolate, but the espresso powder (at least in the amount I used) gave these brownies an unmistakable coffee, or mocha, flavor. They were still very good, just not exactly what Ina (or I) had in mind.

Be sure to check out the Ellie and Barefoot blogrolls to see some fabulous versions of these!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

TWD: Chipster Topped Brownies

Great news! This is going to be a really short post! That's because (1) I made these brownies at the beginning of May and can't remember a thing about them other than the fact that 3/4 of the pan was raw; and (2) I spent 17 hours this weekend in a minivan with my three small children, and therefore can't form any coherent thoughts that don't involve holding it for just a little bit longer or not being there yet.

It is really difficult for me to write anything short because I've been trained in a profession that is renowned for its verbosity. I make a living writing things that begin with "Comes now the Counterclaim Defendant, by and through its undersigned counsel of record, and respectfully submits its Brief In Support of Its Motion To Strike the Counterclaim Plantiff's Affidavit in Support of Motion for Partial Summary Judgment" and go downhill from there. But I've recently joined Twitter, which is great for interfacing with other food bloggers, and that is helping re-train me to make my points in 140 characters or less. My grammar and spelling have gone to hell in the process, but I can make succinct points in a way that I never could before. And this reprogramming comes in very handy on nights like tonight, when deep fatigue has set in, because I can tweet my post.

This is why 30 Day Shred not working even tho been at it for 92 days:

Always eager to de-pan. D/n wait til room temp like told. Looks like I might get lucky:

Nope, d/n get lucky.

Used Pyrex pan, @ezrapoundcake says next time use metal pan, will solve raw brownie woes. Will do that, thx Rebecca.

Served outside edges 2 friends @ KY Derby party. Think they liked but coulda been bourbon talking. Brownie part better than cookie part IMO.

Beth at Supplicious chose Chipster Topped Brownies - thanks Beth!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

TWD: Fresh Mango Bread

Kelly of Baking with the Boys chose this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, Fresh Mango Bread. Kelly makes me laugh every Tuesday; ergo, I make a beeline to her blog every Tuesday. I knew from Kelly's blog posts that she would not pick anything with nuts; and I figured that something with chocolate was a good possibility, since Kelly really seems to love her chocolate. Mango Bread was definitely the dark horse -- anyone who had money on "Kelly for Mango Bread" did well.

Dorie says that mango breads are popular in the South. But I've gotta say -- I live in Alabama, a pretty Southern place, and I've seen mango bread around here about as often as I've seen bumper stickers on pickups. But I am not from the South, so I didn't want to trust myself on this point. I polled some of my authentic Southern friends, people who were born and raised in such very Southern places as Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina. My question: "Did you grow up eating mango bread? Dorie says it's Southern." I got responses such as these:

"Mangoes are not a Southern food. I don't even like them, so they can't be a Southern food."
"Never heard of it. But if you deep fry it, you can Southern it up a little."
"Mango bread? That's a Yankee bread."
"Maybe she means WAY Southern. Like the Caribbean."
"I hear that mango bread is very popular in Southern St. Barts."

Well, Southern or not, the mango bread sounded great to me. It is a spice bread full of ginger, cinnamon, and lime zest, sweetened with both brown and white sugar, and studded with fresh mangoes and golden raisins. I started dabbling in yeast bread baking recently, and one thing about baking with yeast is that it makes quick breads like this one seem even quicker. This came together in a flash. Mix together the dry ingredients, add an egg/oil mixture, and then stir in the mango, raisins and zest.

Mmmmmmm, mango bread batter.

The only thing noteworthy about the batter mixing is that I needed two mangoes to get the two cups needed for the recipe (Dorie says that you'll get two cups from one large mango). I guess I just haven't bought enough mangoes in my life to know if mine were small, medium or large. Apparently they were not large enough to yield two cups diced.

This bread bakes for a LONG time -- one and a half hours. That sounded long to me, but seeing as I'm riding a streak of underdone baked goodies, I wasn't about the question Dorie on the baking time. I did have to tent the bread with foil about 35 minutes in to keep it from getting too brown on top.

This was delicious! I served it to David with ice cream when it was still a little warm. The bread is so dense that it's almost cakelike, so the cakelike presentation worked well (I did not garnish David's with mint; that was for artistic purposes only). I didn't serve myself the same mango bread/ice cream dessert; instead, I just cut myself an impossibly small sliver of it every time I walked by it, and since it was in the kitchen, where I lived last weekend, that meant that I ate approximately half of the loaf. I shared what was left with David's parents, who really seemed to enjoy it too.

Another winner from Dorie! Kelly, thanks for the pick -- we loved it here in the South!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bread Baker's Apprentice: Anadama Bread

This is my first post for a new baking group that I recently joined, and am incredible excited about -- a group of 200 bakers who have vowed to spend the next year or (two!) baking their way through Peter Reinhart's James Beard Award-winning book, the Bread Baker's Apprentice:

I have a hard enough time keeping up with the three blogging groups that I am already in, TWD, CEiMB and Barefoot Bloggers, so I initially questioned the wisdom of signing up for another one. But I just couldn't resist this particular group. First, it is all about baking bread. I've dabbled in a little bit of yeast baking over the past six months or so, and I have wanted to do more, but as a non-self-starter, I felt that I needed the external motivation of a formal(ish) group that has no rigid posting requirements with no draconian consequences for failing to comply with group rules.

Really, the only real Bread Baker's Apprentice ("#BBA," to use the Twitter hashtag) group rule is that you must bake through the Bread Baker's Apprentice in order, but you can take as long as you want to do it. There are not even any posting requirements (although we all know that if you don't blog about what you made for dinner, there is no proof that it actually existed). So this group is really like a college independent study program -- sure, you can sleep til noon, spend the afternoons sunbathing in the quad, and play beer pong with plastic cups of Natty Light by night -- nobody's going to stop you, and you might even fool 'em, but deep down you know you'd only be hurting yourself. Well, we're all here because we want to bake bread/learn more about baking bread, so you won't catch us slacking off, even without Rules or a Scary Enforcer.

While many people in the group plan to bake and post weekly, I and several of my favorite blog friends, Nancy, Kayte, Audrey, and Jessica, thought that an every other week posting schedule would be more realistic for us. So we are aiming to post #BBA challenges every other Sunday or Monday, starting today (or tomorrow!). So, without further delay . . .

The first recipe out of Bread Baker's Apprentice is Anadama Bread, a classic New England cornmeal and molasses bread. In the introduction to the recipe, Reinhart shares one version of the story behind the bread's name: a Massachusetts man who was upset at his wife for leaving him, and for leaving behind only cornmeal mush and molasses when she left, exclaimed "Anna, damn 'er!," which was later modified by "more genteel local Yankees" to "anadama." Having grown up in New England, I think the likelihood of that story being true really depends on what part of New England you are talking about -- get into the wrong part, and the local Yankees would have been more likely to work an F-bomb into the bread name. Be that as it may, I couldn't wait to try this traditional New England loaf, so I started out one night with . . .


I think part of what has scared me away from bread all these years is the esoteric terminology -- biga, poolish, pre-ferment, soaker. It's enough to send a non-science-minded person running to the nearest bakery. Flip through this book quickly and you will see phrases like "enzyme-catalyzing process," "protein molecules" and "pH level." But I think that our sensei does a fantastic job demystifying the science behind the art of bread making.

Psssst -- it's just cornmeal and water mixed together.


After the soaker does its thing overnight, it's time to make the dough, which starts with flour, yeast, the soaker, and water. After the sponge begins to bubble, mix in additional flour, salt, molasses, and butter, and knead for 10 minutes. I used the dough hook on my Kitchen Aid for the kneading. I know that I should knead by hand so that I could learn to get the proper "feel" for the dough, but I have a sweet little one year old who says no a lot and lives on my hip, which renders me one-handed the vast majority of the time. So Kitchen Aid it will be for now, and I hope to get a feel for the dough whenever Caroline works out her separation anxiety issues, hopefully sometime before she hits 30 pounds.

After the dough has been kneaded the proper amount of time, you can check for readiness with the "windowpane test," which involves stretching a small piece of the dough to see if it becomes transparent, but holds together. You can also check the internal temperature of the dough (I did both - check, and check). Once it's ready, transfer it to an oiled bowl and let it rise 60 or 90 minutes, until it doubles. This dough rose beautifully for me. Then divide it up, shape into loaves, place into bread pans, and proof until the dough crests the pans:

Then bake it. I got a little "oven spring" while my bread baked, although my three loaves ended up rising to slightly different sizes, even though they started out exactly the same weight.

Wow, we really enjoyed this bread! We had it fresh out of the oven with dinner the day I made it, and made a couple of different sandwiches on it over the course of several days (our favorite was a BLT!). But my hands-down favorite way to enjoy anadama bread was toasted with butter. I was glad that I made the full recipe, because I was thrilled to have extra loaves to share to say "thank you" (in the way that only New England molasses bread can) to people who helped us out over the past couple of weeks.

Special thanks to our group's fearless leader, Nicole from Pinch My Salt, for organizing this challenge and for taking on the large administrative job that comes with it. I am already completely smitten by this book, and I've got the bread baking bug bad. One down, fifty or so more to go!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

TWD: Tartest Lemon Tart

Today's TWD recipe was chosen by Babette of Babette Feasts. Last week was crazy around here (thank you for your nice comments on my last post, BTW), and we were lucky enough to have some amazing family and friends who helped us through the craziness by watching our kids, chauffeuring our kids, and completely stocking our fridge with food. Thanks to their kindness and generosity, I have not cooked or baked a thing in over a week, except for anadama bread (which I know sounds weird unless you are a baker, then it sounds perfectly normal.) It will probably be another week before I am back in full cooking/baking/blogging mode (but boy, there is no slowing me down on Twitter!), but I made this lemon tart before things got really nuts, so I figure I might as well post it.

Sometimes I feel like I get good end results with things, but my process is really, really painful to watch. For example, back in law school my friend Cara and I returned to school in late August one year and decided on a whim to sign up for the Richmond Marathon in mid-October. We were both casual, 3 miles-four-or-five times a week kind of runners at the time. But we started adding mileage during the week and doing a long run on weekends. On a typical Friday during training we might run 18 miles, come back, order a meat lover's pizza with a side of cheesy bread, pour some wine, and then clean up to go out and live unhealthily for the next 6 hours. We finished the marathon, which I completely attribute to the power of youth -- if I tried such a thing now I would suffer the same fate as Pheidippides, but well before the 26.2 mile mark. But at the time, my then-boyfriend, now-husband David kind of shook his head and said that after watching our training regimen he could no longer feel the same kind of reverence that he once did for the accomplishment of completing a marathon. I know that I would have done my fellow marathon completers a favor by just surprising David at the finish line without making him watch such an ugly 6-week training process.

Well, now that I am baking, I can't even tell you how many times I've wished that David did not have to see what went on in the kitchen en route to (mostly) great end results. Sometimes it would be nice to just be able to pull a fine dessert out of thin air for my sweet hubs to enjoy without him having to witness the spills and explosions, the profanity, the injuries, the verbalized self-doubt, and the equipment malfunction that invariably accompany my baking.

This lemon tart is a prime example. The tart calls for Dorie's sweet tart dough with nuts. That came together fine, but then I had to prebake it, which seemed easy enough in theory. But it seemed completely raw on the bottom after the prebake time elapsed. I tried to talk it out: "this looks raw. Is this supposed to look like this? David, does this look VERY underdone to you? Well, I guess the edges are kind of baked. Didn't I do this before? I don't remember it looking this underbaked last time. Or was that the pie crust? Should I just stick it back in the oven?"

I finally decided to just prepare the filling, proceed with the recipe, and hope that the crust would bake up properly in the end. The filling was fun and easy to prepare - it contains whole lemons! I understand that there was a lot of concern on the P&Q about the piths making the tart bitter, but for me the ease of throwing a couple of lemons in the food processor without peeling, zesting, or squeezing was just too irresistible, and I never considered doing anything else.

Once the lemon filling was done, I filled the tart and stuck it in the oven, where it was in grave danger of overflowing. Then it baked, and baked, and baked, but the filling didn't seem like it was setting up properly. More chatter to poor David: "This is so not setting. But it is really getting brown on top. Ugh! Do you think our oven temperature is off? I really don't think this oven has been heating right ever since David Beckham* (*our handyman, not real Becks, unfortch) broke that center glass panel when he came to take it apart after the shrimp incident. We really need to get him over here to get that replacement panel put in. Gosh, that is jiggly. I did call him, but you know it will be hell to get him out here if all we have for him to do is the glass panel. Don't we have something else that is broken around here? Do you think this will set up more in the fridge? I don't want it to get burned on top! Wow, it really smells good. Okay stand back - I'm taking it out."

Well, sure enough, after all that angst, the tart did set up nicely once I took it out of the oven. We had some friends over to watch the Kentucky Derby, and I served the tart then. Everyone really seemed to enjoy it. I did not find it bitter at all, did not get any complaints about bitterness from my guests, and didn't sense that anyone was holding out on me. I thought it was very rich, tart and lemony. Extremely lemony -- in my opinion whipped cream is imperative to neutralize all that lemony goodness; I would not consider whipped cream to be optional here. The next day David's mom came into town; she really loved the tart as well.

David himself was a big fan of this tart. Would he have been an even bigger fan if I did not psychologically exhaust him while making it? Possibly. One of these days I will effortlessly churn out these desserts, I just know it! Until then, we'll consider the turmoil of the process a small price to pay for the ultimate prize of such a fine lemon tart.

Thanks for the great pick, Babette!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Blog vacation

We have some stuff going on this week that is going to keep me away from two of my favorite places, the kitchen and the computer, for a short while. Therefore, I will miss some TWD, Barefoot Bloggers, and CEiMB challenges over the next week or so. Depending on how things go with That Stuff, I hope to be back in full swing soon, screwing things up left and right but enjoying the vast majority of it anyway. I plan to live vicariously through you to experience the recipes that I miss, and will look forward to visiting your blogs for the full scoop. See you soon!
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