Archive for the 'bread, crackers & sandwiches' Category

wild ride

Last week when my mother was here, graciously helping to transport our kitchen from the old house to the new house, she astutely pointed out that I have a lot of honey in my pantry. This is not particularly surprising. I am a beekeeper after all. What she meant though, is that I have a lot of other honey. One of the unforseen benefits of keeping bees is that people tend to bring me honey. Crazy, exotic honey from far away places.

I have had intoxicating lavender honey from Morocco, orange blossom honey via Florida and famed medicinal manuka honey from New Zealand. I’ve been sent cinnamon creamed honey from Maine and raw honey from a friend’s dad. It all looks and tastes dramatically differently.

My most recent acquisition arrived from the Yucatan courtesy of my friend Gail. It is, without a doubt, the most rugged bottle of honey in my collection. The only label is a small, neon yellow price tag (which Gail assured me is in pesos, not dollars).  And it is bottled in a recycled water bottle (which Gail assured me is more than likely safe and that I should just be glad it came with a screw cap instead of a corn cob nub). It may look modest enough, but I think it might be my most complex specimen. One sniff told me I was in for a wild ride.
I got my newest honey on a Friday and immediately started daydreaming of Sunday when I knew we’d have a chance to really get to know each other. My recipe for a perfect Sunday morning is pretty simple. It includes a hot pot of strong coffee, the most recent New Yorker, a side of thick cut bacon, a pan of steaming popovers, and the honey pot. Oh, and maybe a little cultured butter to really ramp things up.
I’ve tested plenty of popover recipes with varying degrees of success. But last year, I finally found my go to recipe – “Roberta’s Popovers that Always Pop.” Maybe it is the overly confident title, but it has yet to fail me. The recipe clipping (which I can not recall the origins of) includes a picture of Roberta. I have no idea who she is, but she looks like the sort of woman whose popover always pop. I have no problem putting my faith in Roberta. Her popovers are crisp on the outside and moist on the inside.
While my popovers were busy popping, I got out the new bottle of honey and a spoon. I gave it another whiff – herbaceous and earthy, with a subtle floral undertone. A strong smell, but with a distinct and milder taste. And there’s a tang to it that I can’t name. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine what those Mexican bees were feasting on. Whatever it was, I knew it was going to be a outrageous addition to my Sunday popovers.
Roberta’s Popovers that Always Pop
(slightly adapted)

1 cup flour (or substitute in 1/4 whole wheat)
1 cup milk
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons butter, melted
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 425º F and turn it down to 400º after it is preheated. Preheat the empty popover pan in the 400º oven for 10 minutes while you mix the batter.  Melt the butter and let it cool slightly. In a blender, mix the milk and eggs. Add in the butter. With the blender running, slowly add in the flour and salt and blend briefly until batter is thick and smooth. Remove the preheated pan and lightly spray it with cooking oil. Fill each cup about 3/4 full and return to oven. Bake at 400º for 20 minutes. Leaving the popovers in the oven, and without opening the door, turn the oven down to 350º and bake another 10-15 minutes. Use a paring knife to make a small slit in the side of each popover. Turn the oven off and let popovers rest for 5 minutes in the pan. (Make 5-6 large popovers, depending on the size of your pan)

bacon symphony

In another lifetime, I lived and worked on an organic farm in far northern Maine with my mentor turned best friend, Lorna. We ran a small CSA together, doling out a weekly supply of vegetables to a dozen or so families. Lorna taught me a lot of things – and how to grow vegetables was just the tip of the iceberg. She taught me how to change the muffler on my truck. She showed me how to be quiet and wait. She taught me how to split and stack wood. She encouraged me to look at things differently. And, best of all, she taught me how to cook without a recipe.

Lorna’s cooking style is amusing. She’s the type who drizzles the honey into the bread batter two feet above the bowl, just to see the pattern it makes. But perhaps her best culinary trait is that she cooks with what she has. There’s no running to the Shop & Save twenty minutes away to pick up this or that. Lorna inventories her kitchen like a true chef. And if she has a surplus of some particular ingredient, you can bet it will be front and center on the menu.

This happened so often in my cooking forays with her, that I coined a term for it. The “_____ intensive meal.” If there was bread about to go by, I knew we’d need to come up with a bread intensive meal. An onslaught of broccoli demanded a broccoli intensive meal. A surplus of eggs? You get the idea. Lorna doesn’t really need a cookbook. She just needs to know what’s in the pantry. I admire that.

The other night as I was drifting into that wild space where the conscious and subconscious so effortlessly mingle, I remembered the two pounds of bacon that has been lingering in our fridge. A bacon intensive meal, I thought. Must-make-a-bacon-intensive-meal. And then sleep washed over me. Fortunately this bit of brilliance was still with me in the morning. Only I wasn’t quite sure what comprises a bacon intensive meal – save roasting two trays of it in the oven and then shamelessly tucking in.

I channeled Lorna for inspiration and decided on bacon sandwiches. But not just plain old bacon sandwiches. I riffled the fridge and pulled out all the big guns. A wedge of Ba Ba Blue, a bunch of tender arugula, and a carton of slow roasted tomatoes with honey and thyme  from the freezer. I called Mark and asked him to pick up a loaf of marbled rye on his way home. My bacon intensive meal was coming together just fine.

In my book, any grilled sandwich in waiting has two best friends. A well seasoned cast iron griddle and Hellmann’s. Because let me tell you, when a thin smear of Hellman’s meets a hot griddle, it’s a match made in heaven. It doesn’t really matter what’s between the bread. Even a Kraft single will shine. Only in this case it did matter. It mattered because I’m pretty sure it’s a top-ten sandwich, well worthy of repeating. When I was prepping them I had a bout of panic that it was too much. Surely I was going overboard with all of these big flavors. But I wasn’t. They balanced each other perfectly. PERFECTLY! It was one magnificent crunchy, savory, salty, acidic, sweet, bitter, creamy, tangy bacon symphony. Pour a cold, hoppy IPA and prepare for the cymbal crash.

Garlic Pig Bacon Sandwiches

1 pound bacon, cooked
4-5 ounces Blue cheese, crumbled
1 small bunch of arugula
1 cup roasted tomatoes (ideally with a tinge of honey added)
fresh or dried thyme
10 – 12 slices marbled rye
Hellmann’s mayonaise

Spread a thin layer of Hellmann’s on the outer surface of each bread slice. Construct sandwiches by layering Blue cheese, ample bacon, a handful of arugula, a scattering of tomatoes, and a light sprinkling of thyme between two pieces of bread. Grill on a medium-hot griddle until nicely browned on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Makes 5 – 6 sandwiches, depending on the size of your bread.

pass the butter

Still searching for ways to climb out of my recent breakfast rut, I’ve been on the lookout for ideas. I knew I was on to something when I stumbled across the exotic sounding ontbijtkoek – a Dutch spice bread. There are three things that immediately caught me attention. 1) Ontbijtkoek is traditionally made with rye flour. 2) It also involves honey. I love baking recipes that use honey – especially when it is combined with rye. You might as well just pass me the butter right now. 3) It literally translates to “breakfast cake.” Sign me up.

Other selling points include that it calls for a healthy dose of my favorite winter-warmers: cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and clove. Plus there’s fact that it’s quick. And dish friendly. One mixing bowl, one spatula, one loaf pan. Of course I had to complicate things by baking mine in three little mini-loaf pans. They’re so cute, I couldn’t resist. I rationalized that it would be handy to stick a loaf or two into the freezer for future breakfast pick-me-ups.

I learned from Wikipedia that several parts of The Netherlands have their own local recipe, of which the most famous is “oudewijvenkoek,” a variety that is mostly eaten in the northern regions. Oudewijvenkoek translates to “old hag’s cake” – which I found amusing, but a little more research taught me that it is traditionally flavored with aniseed. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go there for breakfast. Too licoricey.

I found a handful of recipes for ontbijtkoek and ended up taking the bits and pieces I liked best from each to make my own version. Apologies to the Dutch if I have gone and ruined their traditional breakfast cake in doing so. But this much I can tell you – it is perfect with a strong cup of coffee. It’s chewy and warm and toasty. But don’t limit it to breakfast. Try it for elevenses and afternoon tea too. It’s marvelous lightly toasted with a spread of cold butter. Or if you want to get especially European about it, try it topped with a mild chev. Now there’s a combination that will send the breakfast blues packin’.

Ontbijtkoek (Breakfast Cake)

1 1/2 cups light rye flour
1/2 cup flour
3 teaspoons of baking powder
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup honey
1/4 cup black strap molasses
3/4 cup milk
pinch of salt

Combine the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and add in the liquid ingredients. Stir until just combined. Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake in a 300ºF oven for 50 – 80 minutes, depending on the size of your pan(s). This is a moist bread, so you really want to be sure it is completely cooked through. Serve warm or lightly toasted with butter or chev. Makes one loaf, or 2 -3 mini lovaes.

let’s camp!

Forgive me. It’s the height of summer (at least up here in Northern Wisconsin) and the garden is finally overflowing. So I feel like I ought to be rattling on about all the ways I have been using my glorious vegetables. But what really has my attention at the moment is biscuits. Mile-high, flaky biscuits. See, I went camping last week with my childhood friend Kathryn. And when Kathryn and camping get together, you can pretty much bet there will be biscuits involved. On this particular trip, it was Kathryn’s dad, Gary, who made the biscuits. But still, there were biscuits. Warm biscuits with butter and honey. Could there be a better way to start a day?

To accommodate his daughter’s dietary needs, Gary went all out and tried his hand at making gluten-free biscuits – how sweet is that? Truth be told, they were a bit heavier than your average biscuit. But they were still biscuits. Warm biscuits with butter and honey. And I can assure you that there is certainly not a better way to kick off a day of paddling than with a belly full of biscuits. I give Gary an A+ for effort. His biscuits reminded me that I have been meaning to try a recipe from a delightful little cafe I visited in Charleston, SC earlier this spring.
I decided a batch of these old-fashioned biscuits would be just the thing to help me ease back into work and the daily routine. I could take them outside with my morning coffee and pretend like I was still camping. Perfect. I knew I had some White Lilly flour lingering in my freezer that my mom had lugged home from Charleston. White Lily is a low-gluten flour made from Southern grown soft winter wheat. It’s the type that makes extra fluffy quick breads and biscuits. You can substitute cake flour or other low-gluten flours to achieve the same results.
While these biscuits may be low-gluten, they aren’t exactly low-fat. But they are so worth it. Especially if you take them outside and pretend like you’re camping. The recipe, which comes from a fun little hand-illustrated cookbook published by the Hominy Grill, calls for all three of the traditional fats – butter, lard, AND shortening. But it’s okay – we’re camping, remember? I don’t keep shortening on hand, so I kept the amount of fat called for the same, but replaced the shortening with butter. I’m sure a true southern cook would detect this omission, but my taste buds were none the wiser for it. And you could no doubt get by with using all butter.
To even further soften my transition back to reality, I made a side of Honey-Thyme Butter to accompany my biscuits. I was inspired by a Honey-Thyme Ice Cream recipe from Amanda Hesser. It’s such a great combination that I wanted to try it in butter as well. I used lemon thyme with the butter and it was perfectly lemony. I’m sure regular thyme would be equally as tasty. For an even more savory treat, try adding a pinch or two of fresh minced garlic into the butter. Maybe it’s just me, but I love the taste of garlic, butter, and honey. A blend that I accidentally discovered years ago while camping – of course!

And since I don’t want to completely short-change you on the vegetable front, I’ll at least tip you off to some of my favorite combinations this summer.

Cukes: Toss coins or matchsticks with a bit of seasoned rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil, salt and red chili flakes

Zucchini: A riff on a 101 cookbooks recipe, caramelize some shallots and garlic, toss in a layer of zucchini coins to brown on both sides and finish if off with a healthy handful of chopped dill and crumbled feta. Left unattended, I can polish off an entire pan of this in a heartbeat. It also makes a great lunch stuffed into a pita.

Green beans: This concoction is adapted from the now defunct Fhima’s in downtown St. Paul. Combine equal parts teriyaki and peanut butter, add in fresh garlic, chopped green onions, and cayenne to taste. Serve over lightly steamed green beans.

Mile High Biscuits
(adapted from the Hominy Grill)

4 cups flour, plus additional for kneading
(use a southern biscuit flower or substitute cake flour)
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons lard
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Sift the dry ingredients together into a large bowl. Cut in the butter and lard with a fork or pastry cutter until you get pea sized lumps of butter. Add in the buttermilk and mix until the ingredients are just moistened. Turn out onto a floured board and knead a few times until a ball forms. Roll or pat the ball into a circle about 1 inch thick. Cut out biscuits with a lightly floured cutter and transfer them to a baking sheet. Bake the biscuits in a 425ºF oven for about 15 minutes, or  until they are golden brown. Makes about 12 2 1/2 inch biscuits.

Honey-Lemon Thyme Butter

6 ounces butter, room temperature
4 tablespoons liquid honey
1 tablespoon fresh chopped lemon thyme
a pinch of fresh minced garlic (optional)

Combine and mix well, chill slightly.

lucky thirteen

It’s official. I’m in love. Madly in love. I married a man who makes a homemade pizza almost every Sunday night. He’s missed a few here and there, but by and large, come late Sunday afternoon, he’ll stop what he is doing, don an apron, open a bottle of wine, and take over the kitchen. We celebrated out thirteenth wedding anniversary yesterday. I figure this man has made me well over 600 pizzas. How could I not be in love?
I credit myself with having the brilliance to teach him how to make a simple whole wheat crust years before we got married. We were living in a small cabin in northern Maine with no water and no electricity. Our kitchen was small and sparse, but there was just enough room to roll out a pizza crust. But truthfully, my involvement in the matter pretty much stops there. Since then Mark has taken it upon himself to perfect his craft. Years ago he acquired a small jar of sourdough starter from a coworker. I’ve made it clear that I love my husband, right? Good, because that said, I didn’t have high hopes for the starter. Mark is an idea guy. Follow through has never been his strength. But let me tell you, he tends to his starter like nothing I’ve ever seen. If he happens to be away or miss a Sunday, he’ll make a mid-week pizza instead. And if that fails to happen, he’ll be sure to take a little starter out and freshen it up so it’s alive and ready for the next week. Excuse me while I eat my words. And along with them, hundreds of fabulous sourdough crusted pizzas.
At some point in this pizza love affair, Mark dubbed Sundays as Bistro Night. He generally spiffs up, puts on a classy shirt, and proceeds to dote on me like I’m a tourist at some crazy Italian café. With lively accordion music playing from the Bose, he’ll offer me a small bowl of black olives to snack on or a slice of fresh mozzarella to tease my palate. Occasionally he puts me to work grating cheese or chopping garlic, but generally he shoos me out of the kitchen. He prides himself on making the thinnest crust possible – because he knows that’s how I like it. And if I really sweet talk him, I can sometimes convince him to make my very favorite crust – a creation where he stuffs the edges with a mixture of cream cheese, chev, and chopped jalepeños. It’s a bit more fussy, so I have to get my request for this in early. In the summer months he takes his café outdoors and throws the pizza on the grill instead. And the toppings! Lets just say that Mark is not shy to experiment. If it’s in the refrigerator, it’s fair game. Chopped broccoli has become a favorite. Other winners include pesto, grilled chicken, artichoke hearts, jalepenño stuffed olives, chorizo, spicy greens, and even fresh strawberries.
But the real reason I’m so in love is not about the pizzas. Here’s why I am truly smitten. Still desperately trying to catch up at work, I spent the better part of this past Sunday at my desk. Around 5:00, I went down to the kitchen for a glass of wine and retreated back to my computer. About a half hour later, with familiar smells wafting up through the grate in my office floor, Mark came upstairs with a treat for me. Nothing fancy – just the scraps of left over crust, baked and sprinkled coarse salt. But his presentation was everything. Shaped into a smiley face, served on my favorite little pink plate with a jar of hot mustard to dip into. “Happy Anniversary,” he said, and went back down to the kitchen. Be still my beating heart. It’s been thirteen years and I feel as lucky as ever.
I can’t even remember the last time we had a pizza made with a plain-jane crust. In addition to the sourdough factor, Mark usually kneads a combination of fresh garlic and herbs into his crust. But if he ever left the pizza making in my hands (not likely since he hasn’t yet in 13 years), I would probably turn to the standard whole wheat crust that I grew up with. Thin and chewy, it’s one of the very first things I ever learned to make. But in the meantime, I’ll keeping making reservations at the best little bistro I know. Lucky me.
Whole Wheat Pizza Crust

few drops of honey
3/4 - 1 tablespoon dry yeast
3/4 cups warm water (95 - 105 degrees)
1 1/2 - 3 cups whole wheat flour (or a mix of flours – substitute some semolina for an especially thin crust)
pinch of sea salt

Pour warm water into a medium sized mixing bowl and add a few drops of honey. Dissolve the yeast and let it sit for a minute or two. Add salt and gradually stir in flour – enough to make a nice, not too sticky, elastic dough. Knead it 3 - 5 minutes, either right in the bowl or on a floured surface. Let the dough raise, covered, 15 - 20 minutes before rolling out the crust. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
On a floured surface, roll the dough into a circle or rectangle – don’t be affraid to pull and tug the dough a bit to help it conform to your desired shape. Lightly oil a baking sheet, dust it with cornmeal and transfer the crust to the pan. If you like a crispy crust, it helps to pre-bake it about 10 minutes. You can also pre-bake the crust for 10 minutes and freeze it for a quick meal later on.
Prepare your pizza a desired and finish baking at 375 degrees until top is bubbly and melted.

entertaining 101

I threw a dinner party for the record books last weekend. In hindsight, I should have seen the writing on the wall from the get-go. I broke my cardinal rule and got a late start cooking. But it was one of those days at work when nothing was going right and everything was taking twice as long as it should. So I literally sprinted to the kitchen, just a couple of hours ahead of the guests.
Evidentially my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day karma carried right on over into the kitchen. It took me two attempts (yes, two) to realize I was feebly trying to crack hard boiled eggs into the mixing bowl instead of soft. Once I finally got my hands on the right carton of eggs though, there was no stopping me. I got so carried away with my success that before I knew it, I had aded too many whites to the coconut macaroons. As if to somehow compensate for this, I left out the salt entirely. My carrots that were supposed to be chilling in an ice water bath to prevent sogginess ended up sitting out at room temperature all day.
Just forge on, I told myself. And then, I dropped a bottle of red on the tile floor. A ceramic floor shows no mercy – ever. I’ve even managed to break enamel cast iron cookware on our floor (twice). By the time I got the majority of wine mess cleaned up, my husband Mark was home. “One more thing,” I called from my unplanned bath, “and we’re calling out for pizza.”
I should learn to listen to myself better. Especially in times of duress.
I had somehow managed to take a quick break earlier in the day to get the naan –  that soft, oven-baked Indian flat bread prepped and rising. Midway through my workday, I remembered with a jolt that naan was to accompany the menu of spicy chile-cilantro grilled chicken and curried rice. I went downstairs to the kitchen and got it going with what I thought was going to be perfect timing. But it was particularly cold out, which means I felt the need to keep the house particularly warm. Which means the naan rose particularly fast. No worries, I thought. I’ll just punch it down again. Striving yet again for the perfect timing that would allow me to pop the breads into a 500ºF oven just minutes before sitting down at the table, I decided to give the dough a little goose of warm air by sliding the covered bowl gently behind the wood stove.
You know how sometimes things happen so fast you don’t actually know how they transpired? It was all in the timing. Mark stepped out on the deck to check the grill. I popped upstairs to get some extra stemware out of storage. Enter Mae West – our dog. With unprecedented deftness, she ate the entire bread bowl full of rising dough. I can’t say for certain, but I’m pretty sure I was more distraught over what this was going to mean for the dog than I was about there being no naan for dinner. But before I had time to really mull it over, our guests arrived.
Our friend Linda, bless her heart, had her phone out before we could even finish telling the tale. She was calling her brother-in-law veterinarian in Reno, NV. David got the specifics, asked a few pertinent questions, and then advised that we induce vomiting. I got Linda set up at the bar taking drink orders while Mark, Mae West, and I proceeded out into the frigid darkness with a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and a turkey baster. We were only mildly successful with our attempts and West spent the remainder of the evening outside on the deck with a sort of woeful look on her face.
The beauty of having true-blue friends over is that they’ll excuse just about anything. And that they did. Dinner got on the table at least 2 hours later than planned. I rummaged through the freezer and found an assortment of odds and ends bread products to serve. The grilled chicken (thankfully) was glorious. The thick chile-cilantro marinade formed a crunchy, spicy crust that was a perfect warm-up for a cold night. The shredded carrots rallied, got themselves dressed up in a tangy sauce with dates and pistachios and seemed no worse for the wear. Everyone claimed to like the “extra chewiness” of the macaroons, but really I think they were just being kind.
The dog came in as our friends departed and headed straight upstairs to bed. We all survived, I sighed, crawling underneath the quilts. I drifted off and awoke in the wee hours of the morning to the sound of someone doing body slams against the floor. I wearily checked on the dog and came to the stellar conclusion that she must be highly uncomfortable.
It wasn’t until a few hours later when we were all up and about that we discovered the pooch was down and out drunk. She’s a big girl, but apparently not big enough to stave off the effects of a pool of fermenting yeast in her belly. (It was then that I remembered adding an extra hefty pinch of yeast to the dough – skeptical about its freshness.) Mark carried all 67 pounds of her down the spiral steps where she then proceeded to walk headlong into the wood stove. Back to the scene of the crime. We tried to get her quiet and comfortable – her poor head bobbing and weaving, even as she laid still. We got a local vet on the phone over coffee and learned she’d just have to sleep it off. Which is about what I felt like doing.
Disappearing Naan (based on a recipe from Julie Sahni)
1/2 cup yogurt (plain and preferably made with whole milk)
3/4 boiling water
1-2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 teaspoons fresh minced garlic
1 teaspoon dry yeast
3 cups flour (I like using 1 cup white whole wheat and 2 cups white)
2 teaspoons fresh minced garlic (optional)
Oil as needed 

Whisk together the yogurt, water, honey, and salt in a large bread bowl. Beat in the egg and melted butter and mix throughly. Sprinkle in the yeast. Give the yeast about five minutes or so to activate and bubble, and then stir in the flour. I use a firm plastic spatula to work in the flour. The dough is quite sticky at first. I keep kneading with the aid of the spatula blade until a less sticky dough ball begins to form. I then lightly oil my hands and switch to kneading by hand (in the bowl) until a smooth ball forms. All in all about 15 minutes. Lightly oil the bowl, cover, and let it raise undisturbed in a warm spot (free of dogs) until doubled in size – about 2-4 hours. You can punch the dough down and give it a shorter second rise if need be.

Punch down the dough and then gently knead for another few minutes to loosen it up. If you are using garlic, knead it in at this stage. Divide the dough into 8 equal portions and roll out each piece into about a 7-inch oval. Arrange in a single layer on 2 baking sheets and bake in a 500ºF oven until they begin to puff and brown – about 4 to 5 minutes.

Remove and brush with melted butter if desired. Serve quickly!

Naan is great with curries, tandoori dishes, kebabas, and soups. It’s also quite tasty for breakfast with a smear of butter and honey – especially the garlic naan.



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