Archive | February 2012

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.

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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.