Beer Bread

This is an incredibly quick and easy recipe for homemade bread.  No yeast beyond what’s in the beer, no kneading, no rising, no hassle.  It takes approximately 10 minutes to put together and then another hour to bake.  That’s it.

As easy as it is, I managed to screw it up.  I do not like beer; unfortunately not liking beer means that I’ve never paid any attention to the details that go along with beer.  Details like IPAs are between 40 and 60 international bitterness units, which is a lot.  Naturally I used an IPA (The bottle was pretty!) and made some truly awful bread.  It turns out that I just don’t like hops (the things that make beer bitter) at all, and even if I did, they do not belong in bread.  (Now that I understand what it is that I don’t like about beer, perhaps I can find a beer that I like…or I could just stick to tequila.)

Allow me to help you to avoid my mistakes.  First, do not use an IPA.  Second, choose a beer that is under 25 IBUs.  Third, the fewer hops, the better.  (For bread at least.  Those of you who actually drink beer may enjoy hops, but they do not belong in bread.)

Do you have your beer?  You just wandered over to the refrigerator and pulled out a can of PBR, didn’t you?  Good choice.

Ingredients

  •  2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar (granulated sugar or brown sugar both work)
  • 12 oz. beer (see above)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.  Grease and flour a loaf pan.  (This is important if you want to get the bread out of the pan in one piece.)
  2. Thoroughly whisk together all dry ingredients.
  3. Create a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the beer.  Stir until just combined with a wooden spoon.  Do not over-mix.
  4. Scrape dough into the prepared pan.  Make an effort to smooth it out a bit.
  5. Bake for one hour.  It will have a firm crust and look…rustic.  It will also be tasty.

It goes very nicely with chili or butter.

Corn Chowder

Corn chowder, a fine way to put bacon into soup.  Serve with crackers or the beer bread I’m going to share in my next post.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb bacon
  • 1 medium red bell pepper
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 tsp minced garlic (two cloves)
  • 1/4 cup AP flour
  • 42 oz. chicken stock
  • 2 large potatoes (I prefer to leave the skins on, but peel if it makes you happy.)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups cream
  • 1 lb bag frozen corn, or 6-8 ears grilled corn on the cob
  • 1 tsp chipotle*
  • 1 tsp dried basil or thyme
  • 1/4 tsp tumeric
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • fresh parsley (optional)

Directions

  1. Place bacon on sheet pan in 350° oven for 15-20 minutes.  While bacon is cooking, finely chop all vegetables.  (Your food processor can help!)
  2. When bacon is done, pour 2 tablespoons bacon grease into a dutch oven or soup pot.  Add chopped vegetables, except potatoes, and saute until soft, 7-10 minutes.
  3. Add flour and stir in thoroughly.  Keep stirring the flour and vegetable mixture for a minute or two to brown the flour.  (While not a true roux, it’s still a combination of fat and flour intended to thicken the soup.  It’s a start.)
  4. Add chicken stock, potatoes, and bay leaf.
  5. Bring soup to a full boil and maintain for 7-10 minutes.  This will break down the potatoes (hard, partially cooked potatoes are bad) and help thicken the soup.  Use this time to chop bacon and parsley.
  6. Reduce to a simmer and add cream, corn, bacon and remaining spices.  Simmer for 15 minutes.  (If using milk or half and half as a substitute for heavy cream, do not allow soup to return to a full boil.  The dairy product will separate.)
  7. Remove from heat, stir in parsley, and serve.  Cheese makes a tasty garnish.

*I use canned chipotle peppers that I’ve pureed in the food processor, but you could substitute 1/2 teaspoon chipotle seasoning if you prefer.

Spinach Faux Frittata

Real frittatas require copious amounts of eggs and are closely related to omelets.  I do not like the texture of eggs and prefer my eggs to be hiding in cake, or candying a walnut, or even teaming up with lemons to become curd, so eating a real frittata does not appeal to me.  Fortunately, this is not a real frittata.  It does require a couple of eggs, which combined with the melted butter gives it a certain texture, but it’s still quite tasty.  It can be eaten hot or cold and travels nicely for all your pot-luck needs.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. bacon
  • approximately 7 oz. spinach, rinsed (Frozen spinach can be substituted. Defrost and then chop without blanching.)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • pinch nutmeg (do it)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk or half and half
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • grated asiago or parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. Cook bacon.
  2. Preheat oven to 375° F. Lightly grease a 9×13 inch baking dish.  (You probably have some bacon grease on hand….)
  3. Fill medium sauce pan with enough water to cover the spinach (do not add spinach just yet) and salt generously.  Bring the water to a full boil. Put the spinach in the boiling water and leave it there a minute or two until it becomes soft.  Drain spinach and rinse in cold water, then chop the spinach finely.*
  4. Whisk together dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, nutmeg) in a large bowl. Stir in vegetables (spinach, onion, garlic, bacon). Work in wet ingredients (eggs, milk, butter).
  5. Pour mixture into prepared pan.  Sprinkle cheese on top.
  6. Bake 30-35 minutes until the tester comes out clean.

Suggestions and Explanations

  • Bacon has hovered near perfection for years, but now I can finally say that bacon is perfect. The difference? I cook the shit in the oven. I lay it out on a sheet pan and just let it sit there until it is done. No flipping, no grease spatters, no half cooked/half burnt pieces. Just perfectly done little slices every time.
  • You are adding the vegetables to the dry ingredients so you can coat the veggies with the flour mixture. Doing so will prevent them from sinking to the bottom and allow them to be evenly distributed throughout the frittata.
  • Freshly grated parmesan cheese is very much like cheese; the stuff in the little green cylinders is very much like sawdust and is not significantly cheaper or longer lasting.
  • *Blanching, the technique of briefly boiling something (usually vegetables) and then arresting the cooking process with cold water, changes the texture of foods and prepares them for further cooking at a later time.  (Like when we bake this.)  Adding salt to the water (think ocean) improves the taste and preserves the color; cooked spinach is undesirable enough without being gray.

Biscuits and Gravy

Two weeks ago, I made biscuits and gravy for the first time ever.  It’s a bit crazy that I waited this long to make one of my favorite breakfast foods, but I somehow got it into my head that it would be a pain to make.  I was so very wrong.

Let’s start with the gravy, modified from Pinch My Salt.

Ingredients (Gravy)

  • 1 pound delicious sausage   (Do not use some sort of reduced fat sausage — you’ll need the fat for the gravy.)
  • 1/2 cup AP flour
  • 3-4 cups whole milk   (Whole milk seems to work best for a liquid gravy that isn’t too runny.)
  • salt and pepper
  • garlic salt (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage (optional)
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
  1. Brown sausage in a large frying pan.  (Hopefully obvious: do not drain grease off after cooking.)
  2. Once the meat is thoroughly cooked and broken up into small pieces, reduce heat to medium, add flour to the frying pan, and stir it in.
  3. Add 3 cups of milk.  Scrape up and incorporate anything lurking on the bottom or sides of the pan.  Bring everything to a simmer, stirring constantly.  The milk will thicken as it heats up, so you may wish to add more.
  4. Reduce heat to low and stir in copious amounts of salt and pepper.  I use about half table salt and half garlic salt.  (Taste the gravy as you go so you know how much you’ll need.)  A teaspoon of dried sage is also a nice addition.
  5. Pour over warm biscuits and eat.  (The gravy will congeal thicken a bit as it cools.  Reheating it will thin it out and you can always add more milk.)

“Pour over warm biscuits and eat.”  So, we should probably make some biscuits.  Here’s the thing, homemade biscuits are cheap, easy, and tasty but no one will point fingers if you use the kind in the little cardboard cylinder — they’re even easier, if more expensive.  If that’s the route you are going to take, it time to stop reading and go make your gravy.  If you’d like to make biscuits from scratch, carry on.

Much research has been done on the best way to make biscuits.  Too long, didn’t read?  Try this recipe slightly adapted from the Homesick Texan:

Ingredients (Biscuits)

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick cold, unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk

Directions (Biscuits)

  • Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  • Whisk or sift all dry ingredients together.
  • Cut butter into pieces, and work into the flour mixture with your hands or a pastry blender until it resembles pea-sized crumbs.
  • Add the liquid, mixing until just combined.  (Over-mixing will make the biscuits tough instead of light and fluffy.)
  • Spoon golf ball sized drops of dough onto a greased baking sheet.  Place them close together so they rise up, not out.
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown

Makes 20-24 biscuits.

Chicken and Dumplings

So, we talked about cooking a whole chicken, but now what do you do with it?  Now we turn it into chicken and dumplings and devour it like starving wolves.

This recipe can take some time and effort, but it’s cheap.  Like $10-$15, depending on sales and your supply of staples.  It’s also delicious and easy to transport — just put it in some sort of dish with a lid and go. Microwave it when you arrive at your destination and it’s ready to eat, no crackers or condiments needed. (Except for more black pepper, of course.)

Ingredients (Stew)
  • 1/2 stick (4 T) butter
  • 2 medium sized leeks
  • 1 onion
  • 2 carrots or parsnips
  • 6 tablespoon AP flour
  • 1/4 cup cooking sherry
  • 32 oz. chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup whole milk or half and half
  • 1-2 pounds chicken, shredded
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary (You could also use a tablespoon of fresh rosemary, but you’ll have to chop it finely — whole rosemary can become a bit slimy when cooked.)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 pinch tumeric  (Optional, but encouraged.)
  • 1 dash nutmeg (A dash is smaller than a pinch…so sayeth science.)  (Optional, but encouraged.)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Directions
  1. Chop vegetables.  Carrots can be grated on a box grater.   With leeks, you want to cut off the rooty bit at the bottom, cut the white part in half lenthwise, and then cut into quarter-inch pieces.  Discard the green top.
  2. Melt butter and saute leeks, onion, and carrots over medium-high heat.  Cook until soft, about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Stir in the flour, then the sherry.
  4. Stir in the chicken broth, scraping up anything stuck to the bottom of the pan.
  5. Add the milk, chicken, peas, garlic, and spices.
  6. Cover and cook on medium-low heat, ignoring while you prepare the dumplings.
Ingredients (Dumplings)
  • 1 cup whole milk or half and half
  • 3 tablespoons leftover chicken fat or bacon grease (You can substitute butter if you don’t have any lard.  Reduce salt by half if using salted butter.)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Directions
  1. Heat lard and milk until warm, not hot.
  2. Mix dry ingredients together.
  3. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until just combined.  Do not over-stir.  (Pouring the wet ingredients into the dry will prevent all of the bubbles from the baking powder from escaping — you want them in the biscuits.)
  4. Allow to sit for 5-10 minutes.  This lets the baking powder react fully, ensuring light, fluffy dumplings.
  5. Spoon the biscuit dough into the stew in golf ball sized portions.
  6. Cover the stew and reduce the heat to low.  Let the stew simmer until dumplings have doubled in size, about another 15-20 minutes.

Black Pepper

Black pepper is my favorite spice, but it’s possible to make it even better.  Instead of using the pre-ground powder, it’s best to buy whole peppercorns and grind them as needed.  However, you’ll need to toast the peppercorns before you can grind them — toss them in the oven or do it on the stove-top on high heat, whichever is most convenient.  No need to put anything else in the pan — just pepper.  They’re done when they smell delicious and are starting to jump around a bit.

You can grind them with a mortar and pestle (found at your local World Market and under $20 — highly useful) or with an old coffee grinder.  Just do a small amount at a time because ground pepper starts to lose its flavor after a couple weeks, hence the joy of grinding it yourself.

You can also buy a pre-loaded pepper grinder at the grocery store, which is better than using the pre-ground stuff, but doing it yourself is so, so worthwhile.  I can’t use enough enthusiasm or even religious fervor when encouraging you to try it.

Pototoes au Gratin

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs (approximately 6 smaller) potatoes
  • black pepper
  • seasoned salt and celery salt
  • 1 large onion
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1 t garlic
  • 1 T AP flour (AP means all-purpose, as opposed to wheat or cake flour.)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup buttermilk (This is cheap and makes it taste much better. Pro-tip: 1 pint = 2 cups, but you can usually find it sold in a 1/2 pint — if not it will keep for weeks.)
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar
  • 1/2 cup parmesan (Again, and always, real cheese. If it comes in a little green cylinder it’s not real.)

Directions

  1. Dice and caramelize onion. (You caramelize with a tablespoon of butter on medium-high heat. Use a saucepan and then you won’t need to dirty another dish for step 3.)
  2. Thinly slice potatoes and season them with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in onions. Place in 9×9 baking pan.
  3. Melt butter and briefly sauté garlic; stir in flour. Add milk and buttermilk. Bring to low boil.
  4. Add cheddar. Simmer, stirring constantly, until smooth and then pour over potatoes.
  5. Bake uncovered at 375* F for one hour. Sprinkle parmesan on top and bake until pleasantly textured, approximately 15 minutes.

Notes

  • The original recipe calls for 1/4 cup dry bread crumbs to be mixed in with the parmesan…possibly worth trying, at least to see what it does to the texture of the cheese.
  • Believe it or not, I’ve never added ham or bacon to this, but there is absolutely not reason not to. Crisp the bacon first and then you can use the bacon fat to caramelize the onions.