Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Huge Push to Unclutter

If you've checked out the handful of blogs I list on the left sidebar, you'll see I'm a fan of I bought Erin's brand new book when it launched and have read through the whole thing. It inspired me to really take seriously my long-standing desire to pare down, get organized and deal with my clutter issues. I've been dawdling, though, as is my usual MO (unfotunately). But I just got a swift kick in the arse.

As you might know, we got three kittens Christmas night. We've been keeping them in the spare bedroom so they can establish a safe place, get used to us, get familiar with the scent of the other cats and not get killed by the other two.

We're gearing up to let them out into the rest of the house—WITH the other 2, not just by themselves— and I'm freaking out for a whole host of reasons.

1. I'm a spaz and worrywort. It's what I do.
2. I'm afraid of the inevitable fighting, hissing and general nastiness.
3. I'm afraid one or more of the new kitties will plunge to his or her death over the railing. Malcom almost achieved that last night but managed to scramble his way back to safety. He seemed fine. I, on the other hand, felt like I needed a good cry and a stiff drink.
4. Zoë chews things, apparently. She's ingested at least half of a toy mouse and a small section of a rubber toy I THOUGHT would survive kitty chewing. Not so much. So now I'm freaked out that she's going to eat all kinds of awful things, block her GI track and die.

It's regarding #4 that I'm thinking the "uncluttering" thing is going to take on a whole new meaning and vigor. If I felt "eh" about it or was dawdling before (which I was--ALREADY) I'm recommitted now. Looking around the house and especially the basement, got me thinking of ALLLL the things Zoë might think are edible, and I started freaking out. Some more.

I know I just need to chill a bit on the whole cat thing, but seriously? This might be the huge kick in the ass I need to CLEAN UP and get rid of all the &%^$ collecting dust in the basement and all around the house.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

BBA Challenge Bread #27—Portuguese Sweet Bread


This took forever to make (OK, not really) but it was worth it—bread #27 Portuguese Sweet Bread.

I'm baking my way through Peter Reinhart's award winning book, 
The Bread Baker's Apprentice, along with 200+ other amateur bakers (maybe not that many anymore-it's hard to telll!). Want to join in the madness, or just learn more about this semi-crazy undertaking? Check out the following links:

I made this bread over a month ago, but I still remember how good it tastes. Sweet (duh) but not cloyingly so, soft, fragrant, with hints of lemon and orange. Absolutely delicious.

Call me unsophisticated, but I've always loved Hawaiian bread—you know the round squishy loaf in the orange and brown plastic. I could eat my weight in that stuff when I was a kid. I would say that Peter Reinhart's formula is the grown-up version of that bread. Much less sweet, more complex flavors and full of wholesome, homemade goodness, unlike the packaged stuff which probably has 43 ingredients, two-thirds of which are unpronounceable or really bad for you. So let's take a quick look at the process.

This starts with a sponge of flour, sugar, yeast and water. You let that sit for 60-90 minutes then finish mixing up the dough.

There are quite a few ingredients in this one, but they all help make the bread as yummy as it is.


Enriched with butter, shortening, eggs, and powdered milk, you can see why it comes out so soft.


The wonderful aroma and flavor come from the three extracts—lemon, orange and vanilla. Mmm...

Check out this dough:

PSB-shaggy dough

It starts out all shaggy and rough, but after some kneading in the mixer and a quick finish by hand, it comes out smooth, soft and supple.

PSB-smooth dough

Now you let it ferment until it doubles, which according to the book, should take two hours. Try over three. And even then, I don't think it had completely doubled. So I divided the dough in two and shaped them into boules. You're supposed to put them in 9-inch pie pans—which I did—and they're supposed to "fill the pan fully, doubling in size and overlapping the edges slightly."


Look at this:
PSB-in dish

Clearly even if this doubled, it wouldn't fill the plate and overlap the edges. And it didn't. 


It's supposed to take 2-3 hours to reach this point, but it was at least 4. I called it good and brushed them with egg wash and popped in the oven for about 40 minutes. Oh my goodness. These smelled so good baking and the COLOR.

Wow, the color is just incredible. The combination of sugar in the bread and egg wash made for the most gorgeous crust. And the crumb is beautiful, too.


Now, this was super delicious all on it's own. But let me tell you. This makes the best French toast!

I utilize a slight modification of the method I saw Alton Brown use on Good Eats. You dip the bread in the egg mixture then let it sit on a rack to let it soak in. I sprinkled mine with some Penzey's Baking Spice for an extra jolt of spice-a-licious-ness.


Then I fired up our two-burner griddle—a Christmas present to Dwight a few years ago—and greased it with, what else—butter.


OK, now I want French Toast!


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Kitties

I'll give the story later, but for now, here are pictures of the new feline additions to the Luna home. We got them Christmas night. So far, we haven't named them, but we're working on it.

The Boy



His "Twin" Sister
(just so you can see that there are, in fact, two of them — since they look so much alike)



Their Little Sister


(just because this cracks me up—so very lady like)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The one where I ponder the passage of time

I'm not sure why, but all the talk of the "new dacade" and "decade in review" stuff is kind of freaking me out. It can't possibly be the end of a decade, come on. That's a milestone kind of thing. A big-ish deal. It certainly doesn't seem like that should be the case with the upcoming year.

But I guess it is the beginning of a new decade, whether I like it or not. Another year come and gone in a flash. I can't believe it's been nearly a year since I took a trip to the emergency room after an unfortunate kitchen accident. Over a year since we had to let our oldest cat go— and now we're making arrangements to get THREE kittens to add to our home. Time marches on, often trampling all over me, or at least feeling that way.

So many plans. So much on my to-do list. Here's to a 2010 where I don't find myself looking at 2011 wondering where the hell it went!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Baking that's not just for Christmas

Although I still have a few things on my list yet to make, I thought I'd fill you in on what I've made so far. The great thing about all of these recipes is that none are inherently "Christmassy". You could bring any of these to a 4th of July potluck and no one would look at you askance. 

Cinnamon Nut Palmiers adapted from Budget Bytes
OK, someone might think these would be a little odd for 4th of July, but they'd quickly change their mind after trying one. Simple, easy and delicious.

1 box (2 sheets) frozen puff pastry
2 Tbsp honey
2 tsp cinnamon
4 Tbsp brown sugar
4 Tbsp chopped pecans
confectioners (powdered) sugar for dusting counter

Thaw the box of puff pastry either on the counter at room temperature or in the refrigerator over night. (Make sure to leave out only for the time listed on the box. I left mine out too long and it turned into a solid chunk. I couldn't unfold it like you're supposed to. I had to roll it out with a rolling pin.)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Sprinkle a clean counter top with powdered sugar to keep the dough from sticking. Unfold the dough and lightly drizzle with honey (about 1 Tbsp per sheet). Next, sprinkle with half of the cinnamon, brown sugar and pecan mixture.

Roll up each side of puff pastry inward until the two sides meet. (Like you're rolling up cinnamon rolls, but stopping at the half-way point and rolling from the opposite end to meet it.)

Using a sharp knife, cut log into 1/2" sections and place on a parchment lined baking sheet, about 2 inches apart—they need room to puff up. Make sure they're tightly rolled. You can adjust each cookie a bit as you go. If they're loose, they'll unroll as they puff and bake.

Bake at 400°F for 10-15 minutes. Check at 10 minutes and keep an eye on them. You want them golden brown but not dark brown. The sugar will burn fairly quickly. Immediately transfer to a cooling rack, flipping them over as you do. The filling pools a bit at the bottom and flipping them over will keep them from sticking to the cooling rack. The filling becomes a hard, candy-like crust, but they're surprisingly light and not overly sweet. VERY good.

Peanut Butter Buttons
I've posted this recipe before. I used my smallest Pampered Chef scoop this time. It's approximately a tablespoonful and makes 2" cookies. I got about 177 cookies out of this recipe. These would also make excellent slice-and-bake cookies. Make ahead, roll into logs, keep in fridge or freezer, baking as the urge strikes. These also freeze amazingly well already baked. 
1 1/2 cups butter
1 1/2 cups creamy or crunchy peanut butter, your choice
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
3 eggs
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
3 3/4 cups flour

Cream peanut butter and butter, add sugars and mix well.
Add eggs and mix until creamy.
Add remaining ingredients.
Chill for one hour and chill between batches.
Drop by tablespoonful onto cookie sheets—do not flatten.
Bake at 325°F for 10-12 minutes for smaller cookies, about 15 minutes if you use a larger scoop. You want these barely done.

Cool on cookie sheets for about 5 minutes then transfer to cooling racks or kraft paper (to soak up some grease). Store in airtight containers or zip top bags.

cc shortbread
Chocolate Chip Shortbread adapted fom Not Without Salt
Made approximately 79 cookies
Not overly sweet, just buttery and light with a nice touch of chocolate. Oh so good with a hot mug of your favorite cold weather beverage.

3/4 pound butter (3 sticks), softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 ounces mini chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together, with a whisk, flour and salt; then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Add the chocolate chips until just mixed in. Roll into a log(s) and wrap in wax paper or parchment. Chill until firm. I got two, approx 15" logs out of this at about 1-1/2 inches in diameter. You don't have to be precise.

Carefully slice the log into 1/4″ cookies. Place the cookies on an sheet pan covered with parchment. Bake for 11-13 minutes, until the edges just begin to brown. Allow to cool the store in airtight container or plastic bag.


Monster Cookies adapted by me from the basic Toll House recipe
I doubled this and got approximately 77 cookies from it.
I was going to use regular M&Ms for these, but then saw the bag of peanut butter ones and knew they HAD to go in these cookies. Good call. 

1 cup (2 sticks butter), softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1-3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips (1/2 bag, add entire bag if feeling wild and crazy)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 bag peanut butter M&Ms (the large bag, not an individual portion one)

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Beat butter and sugars. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Add vanilla.
Combine flour, baking soda, salt and oats in medium bowl. Mix well then add to butter mixture. Beat until well combined.
Add chips and nuts and mix by hand until evenly distributed.
Drop by rounded tablespoon on to parchment lined baking sheets.
Bake at 350°F for 10-12 minute or until edges brown and cookies are almost set. Let them rest on the cookie sheets for 3-5 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.
Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies.

Just FYI, if you don't add enough flour, they look like this:
monster-too flat
Not pretty. Also, it might be a good idea to leave out the M&Ms and press into top of each cookie just before baking.

babka sliced
Chocolate Babka from Cooking Light Dec 2009
Makes one loaf (I doubled this and got three "large" and 2 mini disposable aluminum bread pan sized loaves)

1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 package active dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
3/4 cup warm milk (105-110 degrees)
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
7.5 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 2/3 cups), divided
5.85 ounces bread flour (about 1 1/4 cups)
5 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces and softened
Cooking spray

1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
4ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used chocolate chips)

2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon butter, softened

Dissolve 1 teaspoon granulated sugar and yeast in warm milk in the bowl of a stand mixer; let stand 5 minutes. Stir in 6 tablespoons granulated sugar, vanilla extract, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and egg yolk. Weigh or lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add 6 ounces (about 1 1/3 cups) all-purpose flour and bread flour to milk mixture; beat with dough hook attachment at medium speed until well blended (about 2 minutes). Add 5 tablespoons butter, beating until well blended. Scrape dough out onto a floured surface (dough will be very sticky). Knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes); add 1.5 ounces (about 1/3 cup) all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough will be very soft).

Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size. (Gently press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains, dough has risen enough.) Punch dough down; cover and let dough rest 5 minutes.

Line the bottom of a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper; coat sides of pan with cooking spray.

To prepare filling, combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, salt, and chocolate in a medium bowl; set aside.

Place dough on a generously floured surface; roll dough out into a 16-inch square. Sprinkle filling over dough, leaving a 1/4-inch border around edges. Roll up dough tightly, jelly-roll fashion; pinch seam and ends to seal. Holding dough by ends, twist dough 4 times as if wringing out a towel. Fit dough into prepared pan. Cover and let rise 45 minutes or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 350°.

To prepare streusel, combine powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, and 1 tablespoon softened butter, stirring with a fork until mixture is crumbly; sprinkle streusel evenly over dough. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes or until loaf is browned on bottom and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool bread in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pan. Cool bread completely on wire rack before slicing.

This is really good at room temperature, but nuke a slice in the microwave for 10 seconds... bliss.

babka loaves

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Baking Day!

I wish every day could be Baking Day, but I think today will make up for that. I have Tim (sourdough starter) sitting on the counter, bubbling away for Panettone. The dried fruit has been soaking in booze and flavor extracts overnight in preparation.

I went to the store last night to stock up on baking supplies. I spent about $130 on them! Bag of sugar, 2 bags of flour, 2 cartons of eggs, 8 packages of butter (hey, they were 2/$3 so I bought extra), various baking chips, dried fruit, nuts, Rice Crispys, peanut butter, and on and on.

Here's the list of goodies I'm hoping to make. I'm not sure if it's all going to happen, but I'm going to give it the ole college try:

Peanut Butter Cookies
Choco-Scotch Clusters
Rice Crispy Treats
Shortbread with mini chocolate chips
Cinnamon Nut Palmiers
Food for the Gods (rich cake/bar thing found on PW cooks)
Ginger Snaps
Monster Cookies (or Everything Cookies or whatever you want to call them)
and bread of some sort for the neighbors. I'm thinking Cinnamon Raisin bread.

Whew. I'm exhausted already. OH! And I'm tempted to make Sugar Cookies because they're so yummy and fun to decorate. Hm. Not sure about that, but we'll see how it goes.

Wish me luck! And yep, I'll post some pics and recipes later.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

BBA Challenge Bread #26—Poolish Baguettes


I'm baking my way through Peter Reinhart's award winning book, The Bread Baker's Apprentice, along with 200+ other amateur bakers. Want to join in the madness, or just learn more about this semi-crazy undertaking? Check out the following links:

Bread #26, Poolish Baguettes, is another lean bread utilizing a pre-ferment to  help bring out the flavor of the wheat. Poolish, the pre-frement used here, was also used in the Greek Celebration bread, the Ciabatta and was an option for the Focaccia.

The most popular pre-ferment is the pâte fermentée, which is basically a small batch of French bread. Poolish is like pancake batter. You let it bubble up nicely then put in the refrigerator to use within three days. The overnight (or longer) rest allows the flavors to build and develop which in turn allows you to get a very flavorful baguette.

These came together very easily and tasted great. They're perfect for having dinner guests as the bread is best the same day. I did have good luck reheating parts of the loaves in the toaster oven. I misted them with a little bit of water and let them warm through. The crust was nice and crunchy and the crumb delicious and tender.


I was able to get three small baguettes and a batard out of this bread. While it was very good, I still prefer the pain à l'ancienne for baguettes.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

My Million Dollar Idea

As I was being tailgated last night, and trying desperately not to tailgate the painfully slow driver ahead of me (yeah, I get it—it's winter and the wind is blowing like a you-know-what, but come ON), I had a idea for a product that would make me a millionaire. Or get me arrested. Not sure which.

Picture it. A lighted sign—one of those long, narrow ones with the little Lite Brite looking bulbs that spell out words—that fits in the back window of your car. It would be hard wired to a dash-mounted control panel pre-programmed with helpful sayings. Things like, "You have your brights on" or "Your lights are NOT on" or "Accident ahead". You know, helpful things like that.

It would also allow you to create your own messages, such as, "Stop crawling up my ass, it won't make me go faster." And "Do you NOT see the cop up ahead???" And a favorite, "Stop flicking your &$*%@# cigarette butts out the window, #@%*!!" You could have all kinds of fun with it.

Now, because I'm all about safety first, the sign would not allow you to create custom messages while driving. We wouldn't want any accidents caused by texting!

I'm thinking, though, that this might cause an "accident" of another kind, due to some serious road rage sure to develop if you would use the more *ahem* colorful messages. That's where the "getting arrested" part comes in.

On second thought, it's probably not a good idea. Kind of like Dwight's idea to have a gun mounted to his front bumper. Ah, well. Guess I need come up with some other idea to make me a millionaire.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

BBA Challenge Bread #25—Pizza Napoletana & a lesson learned

pizza slice

Ah... pizza—my favorite food, ever since I can remember. I think I could eat it every day, so I was looking forward to this recipe... sort of. WHAT? I know, sounds silly given that I just said it was my favorite food. I think the (self-inflicted) pressure of the challenge caught up with me on bread #25, Pizza Napoletana.

I'm baking my way through Peter Reinhart's award winning book, The Bread Baker's Apprentice, along with 200+ other amateur bakers. Want to join in the madness, or just learn more about this semi-crazy undertaking? Check out the following links:

This pizza dough is another 2-day bread, with divided portions of dough spending the night in the fridge waiting for proofing, shaping and baking. I made half a batch, which resulted in 3 approximately 6 ounce mounds of dough

pizza prep collage

As had been the case with a few of the other breads, I was pressed for time and made the dough Sunday night, hoping to have pizza for dinner the next night. The problem is that I can't predict how long I'll have to work and I ended up working late Monday night. I didn't start Pizza Prep until almost 7:30pm and it needs 2 HOURS to proof. Hmm... dinner at 10:00 pm — doesn't sound good to me. While I waited for the dough to proof, I made the pizza sauce.

pizza sauce

I stumbled on this recipe a few months ago and haven't used any other since. It's super simple, super delicious and freezes great. 

Pizza Sauce
 by Our Best Bites 
1 6-oz. can tomato paste
6 oz. water (just use the empty tomato paste can)
3 Tbsp.
garlic bread seasoning*
1 Tbsp. sugar

3/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional) Kelly's note: I LOVE the flavor, "bite" and heat this gives the sauce

Empty tomato paste into a bowl and add water a few tablespoons at a time, stirring constantly until combined. Add remaining ingredients, stir to combine, and allow to stand until ready to use. Covers two average-sized pizza; freezes extremely well.

*Garlic Bread Seasoning:
combine the following ingredients
1/2 c. powdered Parmesan cheese (Kelly's Note: I've used fresh grated when I've made a small batch to be used right away)
2 tsp. Kosher salt
2 Tbsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. oregano
2 tsp. basil
2 tsp. marjoram
2 tsp. parsley
Store in a jar (preferably one with a sprinkle top) in the fridge.

I let the dough proof for only about an hour and 15 minutes, very hungry and wanting some pizza!  

pizza toppings
Here's what I put on mine. Peter Reinhart suggests using minimal toppings because more toppings makes the crust harder to bake. I exercised restraint and here's what mine looked like.


It might not look like I was conservative with toppings, but I LOVE a lot of sauce and cheese on my pizza, and my usual crust can take it. But I reigned it in here.

I had the pizza stone preheating in a HOT oven and slide the parchment and pizza all on the stone. I was worried that if I didn't use parchment, the pizza would stick on the peel and turn into a big ole mess. I tested the limits of parchment yet again, and managed not to catch it on fire.


Not bad! It looks like pizzaria pizza! Check out the bottom:
pizza crust bottom

It looked good AND tasted good. Hooray!

But things went horribly wrong the next day. See, I only made one of the pizzas on Monday and had 2 left to bake the next evening. Once again, I made it home late and this time I rushed it even more. I think I let the dough rest about 20 minutes before I shaped, topped and baked it. I used the same toppings and this is what I got:

pizza too thin

A cracker thin (not in a good way) crust that was tough and decidedly not right. It was edible, but suffered greatly from the rushed prep.

This is when it hit me that I was just going through the motions to check another bread off the list. "Hold on," I told myself. "Why are you in this challenge? Just to say you did it, or to actually LEARN something from it, too?" It was a bit humbling and more than a little eye opening.

So I decided that I needed to slow down when it was necessary and do this right. I had a little less than half the challenge to go and I needed to do it right, avoid just going through the motions and pay attention to WHY I was doing this. It shouldn't be a chore, something to slog through.

I've been reminding myself of this as I've made bread since. I haven't baked every weekend because the timing hasn't been right. Plus I have to catch up on blogging! I still have two more finished breads to share with you then I'll be back on track. Bear with me while I find my way along this adventure.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pumpkin Pie Brioche Monkey Bread

monkey bread-done

So after I made the pumpkin pie brioche sticky buns, I had half a batch of dough left. If you'll recall, this is a no-knead, make-ahead bread dough you store in the fridge until you're ready to use it. I made half a batch—enough for two 1-pound loaves—so I had about a pound at my disposal. I'd seen a reference to monkey bread recently and realized that it would be a fun way to use up the dough.

I didn't realize how freakin' AWESOME it would be. Seriously, this blows the sticky buns out of the water. The monkey bread tastes amazing warm from the oven, but it's so good for breakfast the next day.

So let's make some, OK?

You'll need about a pound (16 oz) of dough and the following ingredients:

1/2 stick (2 oz) butter, melted
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, loose–not packed
1 Tbsp cinnamon

Melt the butter in a small bowl. Combine sugars and cinnamon in a large zip top bag. Shake to mix.

sugar in bag2 
Spray a bundt pan with cooking spray.

Using kitchen shears, snip 1/2"-1" chunks of dough and form into a rough ball. They don't have to be perfect, and they can be of varying sizes. Just remember that they will rise and become almost doubled after proofing and baking.

dough blob
Dip the dough ball in the melted butter and pull out with a slotted spoon.
Drop into sugar bag. Repeat with about 4 more pieces. You don't want to crowd the bag.

dough in butter

Gently shake the bag to completely coat the pieces then place in the bunt pan.

dough in bag
start layering dough
Repeat with remaining dough. You'll end up with left over sugar. You can sprinkle more over the top if you want.

Cover with plastic wrap and let proof for at least 40 minutes up to an hour.

dough layered
dough proofed

Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake about 30-35 minutes until browned and internal temp is around 190-195°F.

baked in pan

Immediately turn out on to plate. Let cool a few minutes then DIG IN!

monkey bread-piece
monkey bread-piece2

The insides are soft and sticky with cinnamon-y goodness and the bottom (that used to be the top) is a bit crunchy and carmel-y.

It rocked my world.
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