Honey Oat Bread

Honey Oat BreadThis week I decided to try my hand at revamping one of my favorite bread recipes. I have always loved oats whether its in oatmeal, the filler in meat loaves and meatballs, and in Oat Bread. I have not enjoyed oats as much as I used to as they are just too rough to pass through my abbreviated colon easily. My gastroenterologist had told me they were okay to eat but after I wound up in the hospital yet another time with a severe diverticulitis attack the dietician vehemently disagreed with him. I have experimented with oats since then in limited quantities in bread and as a filler in meat loaf but the results were never truly satisfactory.

Then last week I decided to give baking a Honey Oat loaf another try  with a new group of modifications to make the oats easier to digest. First I ground the oats to a fine powder. Then I used boiling water, as opposed to warm water, and waited for it to cool to the proper temperature before proceeding with the rest of the recipe. This resulted in a slurry which blended well with the flour and other ingredients. I used a generous amount of water to compensate for the amount absorbed by the ground oats. After proceeding with the recipe I thought about how much I miss adding sesame seeds, a taste I have always enjoyed, to my doughs. I compensated for this by adding a small amount of tahini to the dough as it was being kneaded so that it would work it ways throughout the dough.

The bread was baked and came out as a beautiful loaf! Lo and behold it also agreed well with my stomach and possessed a perfect hint of sesame flavor. Not only did I enjoy it fully but so did my daughter and then some of her friends who all gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up!

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Five Days of Salad Challenge

Salad Nicoise. Salad Challenge Dinner, Night 1

Composed Salad Entree with Tonnino tuna and a variety of steamed vegetables with Nicoise dressing from Saveur Magazine

After viewing a photo of an incredibly beautiful salad from The Coveteur website and being surrounded by the bountiful beauty of all the August produce surrounding me I decided to test myself with their Five Days of Salad Challenge. They have their salads (provided by The Goods) for lunch and mine are for dinner but I love a challenge especially when it involves making fresh, delicious, seasonally appropriate food that people with my health challenges can also enjoy. I can’t enjoy much food in its raw state without upsetting my digestive system nor dark, leafy greens nor great quantities of fruit but I know there is a whole tradition of composed salads that should meet my needs. I’ve been steaming, sautéing and roasting vegetables along with tonight’s protein choice of seafood. The vegetables have been allowed to cool to room temperature then arranged temptingly on a plate with the choice of protein and sauced with a fresh, bright dressing that is light and easy to digest. The dressings are concocted with the traditional version in mind but in a lightened fashion that is very fresh and full of flavor.

Night One: Salade Nicoise consisting of steamed vegetables including baby Yukon Gold potatoes and green beans. Cucumbers and heirloom grape tomatoes from the farmers market were used on my daughter’s plate. I skipped the tomatoes on my plate and deseeded the cucumber. The hardboiled eggs are from a local raw, organic dairy delivery service. The salad dressing was made with, among other ingredients, local shallots. How can one not love summer and its bountiful cornucopia of produce?!?

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Early Summer Cooking

I made my first real foray of the season to my local farmers market yesterday and came home with a major bounty of produce from which to dream up recipes. My bags were filled with garlic scapes, baby garlic so young individual cloves hadn’t fully formed yet, tiny crookneck squash, plump radishes, perky zucchini blossoms and much more. As my daughter was returning home from college I also picked up two different lettuces and other items for fresh salads.

I spent the afternoon dreaming up dishes for dinner which ended up being the zucchini blossoms stuffed with fresh ricotta cheese made from raw milk and pan fried inside a seasoned cornmeal batter along with French-style omelettes of the baby garlic, potatoes, baby red onions, Parmesan cheese and herbs.

Now’s there’s tonight’s meal-to-be of garlic scapes, ricotta, peas and previously fried fat back purchased from the local Latino Produce Market… More on that tomorrow.

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Savory Marbled Challah

Savory Marbled Challah

My purpose for creating this marbled Challah loaf is that a customer at my place of employment mentioned she makes a streusel for her Challah during the High Holidays which adds extra crunch, sweetness and taste appeal. I like the idea of something different based upon tradition and I personally love streusel toppings of any kind.

I no longer use the multi-seed topping to my loaves of Challah that I used to enjoy since it would upset my permanently finicky stomach so the idea of a new, different topping has proven both intriguing and enticing.

Today has proven to be a great time to bake as it is turning out to be a difficult day; my elderly cat is about to leave this world and I have been home for several days with a bad cold. The fact that the umpteenth really bad storm is approaching doesn’t help either.

What is a Baker to do? Why, bake of course. Baking during times of stress has been a trait amongst the women of my family for several generations.

I wanted to make challah as it is such a wonderful indulgent bread imbued with history and many, many memories of being enjoyed during countless Friday nights. I wanted to try to create a challah this week that utilizes the streusel concept but wouldn’t necessarily be sweet or dessert-like. I also wanted it to be both dairy and meat product free so that it could be enjoyed with either a meat or dairy meal.

My last goal was that the streusel should just stretch the boundaries of what one would normally find in a loaf of challah. Just as salt is routinely added to caramels or chocolates to sparkle against the sweetness I wanted a streusel that would challenge the sweet richness of the challah loaf.

I decided to make a ribbon rather than a topping and make it essentially savory. A little spicy. Add a little kick to the typical expectations one has for a loaf of challah. So I combined a group of ingredients and spread them on the rolled out dough. I then wrung the dough from one long rope rather than braiding it and placed the newly formed loaf in my loaf pan for its initial rise.

The first loaf’s marble has proven warm, slightly spicy and with just a hint of crunch making it a wonderful complement to the rich egginess of the Challah loaf. The crust, sporting a bourbon egg wash, is dark, shiny and with a nice bite again complementing the richness of the loaf within. This recipe is definitely a keeper needing only a few tweaks when made again

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Holiday Cooking for the Family

Christmas Snowballs

A batch of Christmas Snowballs with icing and decorations. Unfortunately, the icing broke when transported to the party site before being applied to the cookies.

I baked and cooked for my family for the Christmas holiday this week including cookies, soups, snacks, stews, desserts, etc. I wanted to make food that was interesting and tasty but I also strove to make dishes that would evoke memories of those who have passed away or can no longer cook for a variety of reasons. I believe that food evokes a royal amount of emotions and memories and I want to keep some recipes from our family tradition alive and well in the succeeding generations. So for Christmas dinner at my cousin’s home I brought a big batch of chocolate shortbread cookies sporting royal icing and various decorations.

My mother made these rich and exceedingly yummy cookies throughout the years as did my grandmother and one aunt all of whom were excellent bakers. I have so many great memories of not only eating these particular treats but decorating them at holiday time with my mom who is now lost in the fog of dementia. Recreating her recipes helps me feel closer to her as well as having the satisfaction of passing her recipes down to the next generation, my daughter, who is already turning into quite an accomplished cook.

Everyone enjoyed the cookies even though the icing broke causing the finished product not to be as snow white as I prefer. Oh well, sigh, there’s always next time. I have already purchased deep yellow and blue sprinkles, the colors of my daughter’s university, so that I can make a batch for her to take back to school when classes resume.

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Enjoying a restaurant we (used to) love but now..

Moules Frite
Tonight my daughter and I returned to an uptown restaurant, French naturally, where we have eaten several times over the years to enjoy a Sunday night supper. To our great disappointment their cooking acumen has slid waaay downhill. A salad that would have been better prepared in our neighborhood supermarket, old fries that had clearly not just come out of the fryer, mussels that had been sitting under a heat lamp I believe as they were fresh but with dried crusty exteriors.

It is such a disappointment when you go to a restaurant that holds such great memories of and the current reality is completely different. Restaurants are so much more to their patrons than food on a plate. They are tied into memories, emotions as well as shared experiences in addition to the smells, tastes, and favorite dishes of the people who eat there.

The disappointment felt when you go to a restaurant that is no longer somewhere you want to be is akin to reconnecting with an old friend and realizing you no longer have much in common. You have great memories and still care about them as people/establishments but no longer care to involve them in your life. It’s a special type of break up…sorry to see you go but not as much as I don’t want you in my life, or in this case, in my restaurant repertoire anymore.

Thanks for the memories but it’s time to go our separate ways.

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Thanksgivukkah and College Care Package

Pumpkin Challah

Pumpkin Challah

Last night and today I have been baking up a storm and loving every moment of it! Cranberry ginger cheesecake, pumpkin challah, and sugar cookies in the shape of a block M meant to cheer on my daughter’s university in its’ quest to beat their arch rivals Ohio State. Go Blue!! While I may be slightly delirious as I worked my day job until 10:00 pm and then came home to bake times like this remind of my passion for baking and my love for sharing for those I love and care for.

The cranberry cheesecake is going to be my Thanksgiving offering for the big dinner. I originally wanted to make a spiced pumpkin cheesecake but my cousin, the hostess, requested a plain cheesecake. I compromised between my desire to make a seasonally appropriate cheesecake and my cousin’s request so, after looking at my go-to recipe I decided to swap cranberries for strawberries and swap out the standard graham cracker crust for a taste-sparkling ginger snap crumb crust. Using cranberries is a benefit because they are at the peak of their season so I can get them locally at a great price making my pie taste especially delicious!

Pumpkin Challah

Pumpkin Challah

I received a request from my challah-loving daughter for a pumpkin challah. Hmm, I thought, seasonally appropriate, perfect for a Thanksgivukkah celebration, and a new challenge…all baking tests I enjoy. I looked at several recipe variations and decided on one that has pumpkin puree, but not lots of added sugar and decided to forgo extra spices as I was after a challah loaf that was pumpkin flavored but not a dessert style loaf, in other words not a tea loaf.

Of course, I made additional changes to the original recipe I used such as using apple cider in place of water and cutting the added sugar slightly to compensate. I followed my traditional methods thereafter of shaping and proofing the loafs on their journey from dough to finished loaves.

Shiny, deep orangish golden loafs emerged from the oven just awaiting the bread knife and the butter knife as well as admiration from all gathered around the holiday table. Updates on these revised recipes to come!

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